Original posted on: China suspends Bo from party elite as murder probe turns to wife
April 11, 2012 - 2:45AM
The senior Communist Party figure at the centre of China's most sensational political scandal in decades, Bo Xilai, has been suspended from the party's ruling elite amid revelations his wife has been named a prime suspect in the murder of British national Neil Heywood.
Mr Heywood, who died in a Chongqing hotel room last November, had originally been declared by authorities to have died from excess alcohol consumption and was cremated without an autopsy.State-run news agency Xinhua said late yesterday evening that further investigation had since uncovered evidence proving that the cause of Neil Heywood's death was murder, and that Mr Bo's wife, successful lawyer Gu Kailai, and family assistant Zhang Xiaojun were prime suspects. Both are in custody.
The report said a special team had been set up to investigate the matter after Mr Bo's former right-hand man and police chief, Wang Lijun, visited the US consulate in Chengdu with information on the case in February.
"It doesn't matter who it is, as long as the law has been broken, the person will be dealt with according to the law and will not be afforded more tolerant treatment," Xinhua quoted a spokesman as saying.
Xinhua said Mr Bo had been suspended from the party's elite Politburo, as well as the 200-odd strong Central Committee, for "serious disciplinary violations", and would be investigated.
It said investigations revealed that relations between Ms Gu and Mr Heywood had been good, but that they later became mired in a financial dispute.
Ms Gu, a successful lawyer, is said to be the first Chinese lawyer to win a civil case in the United States - she has even written a book about it.
In his last public comments in a news conference last month, Mr Bo said allegations against his family had been made up by enemies he had upset during his crackdown against organised crime.
He also said wife had quit her legal career two decades ago to prevent conflicts of interest with his political career.
"A few people have been pouring filth on Chongqing and me and my family," he said, before defending his wife.
"She now basically just stays at home, doing some housework for me. I'm really touched by her sacrifice."
But a report by the Wall Street Journal showed she had continued to conduct business dealings in China, the United States and Britain over the past 20 years.
The political demise of the charismatic and ambitious Mr Bo was cemented following high-level meetings held concurrently in Beijing and Chongqing yesterday afternoon, according to two sources who spoke to Fairfax Media.
Having already been removed from his post as the party chief of the megalopolis Chongqing last month, some analysts had speculated he may have kept his seat on the 25-member Politburo and be farmed out to a prestigious yet powerless post.
The official state-run media reports still referred to Mr Bo as "comrade", in a possible sign that he has not been completely cast aside yet.
But his comprehensive fall from grace has served to highlight the ideological tension and fissures within the Communist Party leadership, right at key time with a stage-managed once-in-a-decade leadership transition due later this year.
There have been signs that the net has been closing on Mr Bo, and the broader leftist movement he represents.
The singing of "red" revolutionary songs and airing of patriotic television programmes synonymous with Mr Bo's reign, stopped in Chongqing shortly after his sacking. The billionaire boss of conglomerate Dalian Shide, Xu Ming, a close associate of Bo Xilai, has also been detained. Others close to Mr Bo are said to have fled.
Chinese censors had slapped a three-day ban on the comment function on the nation's popular microblogs, in an attempt to curb rampart public speculation on the scandal, which has been in part fuelled by the lack of official comment.
On Friday, three prominent hard-left websites Utopia, Red China and Maoflag, which have been outspoken supporters of Mr Bo, were ordered offline.
Flamboyant and articulate, Mr Bo stood out from China's staid brand of politician, and has frequently been described as the closest thing to a western-style politician in China.
After a successful stint in Dalian, he shot to prominence in Chongqing by ruthlessly smashing the city's mafia, while ordering the singing of "red" songs and the broadcast of patriotic programmes on Chongqing television, in a wave of revolutionary nostalgia.
Through his deep network of "princeling" connections - the offspring of revolutionary heroes - his so-called "Chongqing model" had won him strong support within the Communist Party's senior ranks, all with a once-in-a-decade leadership transition due later this year.
Having reached the brink of promotion to the party's inner circle - the nine-man Politburo Standing Committee - Mr Bo's political downfall was precipitated by a dramatic betrayal by his former police chief and right-hand man, Wang Lijun, who had been demoted after a falling-out with Mr Bo.
On February 6, Mr Wang, in an apparent attempt to save his own life, fled to the US consulate in nearby Chengdu, armed with allegations of Bo family criminal behaviour - including in relation to the death of British national Neil Heywood, said to have business connections with Mr Bo and his wife, lawyer Gu Kailai. Mr Wang had alleged that Mr Heywood had been poisoned after falling out with Ms Gu, and that his relationship had soured after he confronted Mr Bo with this information.
British officials have since asked Beijing to investigate "suspicions and rumours surrounding the death".
In a news conference on March 14, outgoing Premier Wen Jiabao foreshadowed Mr Bo's political downfall, delivering thinly-veiled criticism of the handling of the Wang Lijun incident while at the same time warning against the repeat of "such historical tragedies of the Cultural Revolution".
Mr Bo was removed as Chongqing party chief the next day, and has not appeared in public since.