British businessman Neil Heywood was killed on the orders of a powerful Chinese politician who discovered the Old Harrovian was having an affair with his wife, it was claimed yesterday.
Extraordinary reports said married father-of-two Mr Heywood told friends he feared for his life after Bo Xilai learned of the alleged fling with his wife, Gu Kailai.
Mrs Gu, 54, has been named as a suspect in Mr Heywood’s “intentional homicide” and the resulting scandal has prompted a political scandal in China where her husband was once tipped for a place in the country’s national leadership.
The unsubstantiated claims that Mr Bo ordered the killing were reported on websites in China. Reports of an affair have yet to be confirmed or denied by Mr Heywood’s family, who have refused to comment on the case.
The reports claim he was poisoned with potassium cyanide, a tiny amount of which can kill within minutes and give the appearance of a heart attack, an explanation which was initially accepted by the Heywood family.
Mr Bo, 62, has not been named as a suspect in the case but is under virtual house arrest while he faces a Communist Party investigation for “serious disciplinary breaches”.
Business consultant Mr Heywood, 41, was found dead in a hotel room in the city of Chongqing, south-west China, on November 14. Authorities believe he may have been dead for up to 36 hours.
Chinese police blamed the death on excess alcohol and his body was cremated on November 18, without a post-mortem examination.
A British official was present at the cremation and friends and colleagues of Mr Heywood have questioned why UK diplomats seemingly allowed it to go ahead without pushing for crucial forensic checks first.
Mr Heywood, who had known the Bo family for more than a decade, was said to have confided in a friend about the alleged affair with Mrs Gu, saying it had “left his life under threat”. Mr Bo was Communist Party leader in Chongqing at the time.
Internet reports claimed Mrs Gu, who was godmother to the Heywoods’ two young children, met Mr Heywood’s widow Wang Lulu in a cafe two days after his death, accompanied by two armed policemen.
The politician’s wife was said to have begged Mrs Heywood to agree to a swift cremation without a post-mortem examination. Mrs Heywood was unavailable for comment.
A city official in Chongqing, Xia Deliang, has been arrested and allegedly confessed that he prepared the poison and handed it to an employee of Mr Bo. The internet reports were not immediately blocked by Beijing’s censors, which has been interpreted to mean they were officially sanctioned.
Mr Bo has accused his political enemies of “pouring filth” on his family. The Boxun website has previously carried claims he was a womaniser who slept with more than 100 women.
It also alleged he and his wife were involved in a series of murders and that Mr Bo accepted nearly £100million in bribes while he was party leader in Chongqing.
Britain formally asked for an investigation into the death in February but there have been questions over what took so long.
A Foreign Office spokesman said: “As soon as we had serious concerns we told ministers and the family and then, on ministerial instructions, approached the Chinese.”
In an insight to the Bo family’s former influence, the only son of China’s “golden couple”, Bo Guagua, was said to have built up a network of powerful contacts during his education at Harrow and Oxford University.
Lord Powell of Bayswater, a former private secretary to Margaret Thatcher, was said to have become a “father figure” to Guagua, now 24 and studying at Harvard, who is expected to seek asylum in the US.
Mystery death: Neil Heywood. Right: Bo Xilai and his wife Gu Kailai were China’s ‘golden couple’ - Daily Mail
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