China ends silence on Gu murder case

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Official news agency discloses vital details of Neil Heywood's killing

A remarkable 3,400-word article on the trial of Gu Kailai for the murder of the British businessman Neil Heywood has been published by China's official news agency, Xinhua. It breaks the near-total silence that state-run media had maintained on the case, is of unprecedented length – such statements are normally a few hundred words at most – and discloses new details on the crime, its perpetrator, and the motive.

Among the claims are: Gu, wife of the party boss in the mega-city of Chongqing, made lengthy plans and preparations for the murder; she needed an accomplice so Mr Heywood could be manhandled into the hotel bed, where he was finally poisoned, and that there was a trail of increasingly acrimonious emails between the two concerning business dealings. It also says that the trial was attended by more than 140 people, including British diplomats, and relatives and friends of Mr Heywood, the Old Harrovian businessman resident in China who, with his old-world dress sense and Jaguar with its 007 number plate, affected a certain ostentatious Britishness.

Several great mysteries remain at the heart of the case, however, the principal one being the timing of the crime. Gu's defence – which conveniently for the Chinese authorities ignored suspicions that she and her husband were involved in squirrelling away large sums overseas – was mainly that she was motivated to kill Mr Heywood because he allegedly made what Gu perceived to be threats against her son. But, according to the Xinhua article, these, if threats they were, had been made in 2005, six years before the murder, in November 2011. Associates of Mr Heywood have said that physical threats would have been completely out of character for him, even were he in a position to carry them out, which he wasn't, Gu's son at the time being in Britain and Mr Heywood in China with his wife and children.

The officially sanctioned article sheds no light on the whereabouts of Gu's son, Bo Guagua, 24. He was educated at Oxford and then Harvard University and was reported to be something of a party animal who drove expensive sports cars. He denied these claims earlier this year, since when he has not been seen. Neither does the article refer at any point to Gu's husband, Bo Xilai, apparently indicating that the party (which faces a once-a-decade leadership transition this autumn) wants to distance him from the Heywood murder. It is still not known what charges Mr Bo could face.

He is currently in the hands of the party's internal discipline and inspection commission, which is expected to issue a statement about his infractions. That would open the way for a court trial with charges possibly including obstructing police work. Thus far, Mr Bo has been accused only of unspecified rules violations.

The information officially released, although falling far short of what would be available at trials throughout most of the world, is based, Xinhua says, on an investigation by the public security department. It conducted 394 interrogations of witnesses and other people involved in the case.

Gu testified that after she and her son became acquainted with Mr Heywood, she introduced him to participate in the planning of a land project, which never got started. Mr Heywood later got into a dispute with her and her son over payment and other issues. In court, prosecutors presented emails exchanged between Mr Heywood and Mr Bo, showing how the dispute between the two had escalated. According to the evidence, Gu believed Mr Heywood had threatened the personal safety of her son and so she decided to kill him. She told investigators: "To me, that was more than a threat. It was real action that was taking place. I must fight to my death to stop the craziness of Neil Heywood." The report did not detail the alleged threats or say why the murder took place six years later, when Bo Guagua was a graduate student at Harvard.

Xinhua said prosecutors presented testimony from Gu and her employee and fellow defendant Zhang Xiaojun that showed Gu had prepared poison containing cyanide and had asked Zhang to accompany Mr Heywood from Beijing to Chongqing, where he checked into the Lucky Holiday Hotel. Gu and Zhang then visited the hotel, bringing along two bottles (one with cyanide and the other with drugs), as well as wine and tea. After entering Mr Heywood's room, Gu drank wine and tea with him while Zhang waited outside. Later, Mr Heywood became drunk and fell in the bathroom. Gu then called Zhang into the hotel room, and he testified that he put Mr Heywood on the bed. After Mr Heywood vomited and asked for water, Gu put the bottle of cyanide compound she had prepared into Mr Heywood's mouth. Then she scattered the drugs on the floor to make it seem as though he had taken them.

The report said Gu, 53, has been treated for chronic insomnia, anxiety, depression and paranoia in the past, and that she had "developed a certain degree of physical and psychological dependence on sedative hypnotic drugs, which resulted in mental disorders". But, the article implied, the crime was not a spontaneous moment of madness. Gu prepared for the crime by asking for poison from others and storing it, planning to bring the victim to Chongqing, and arranging where it would be best to kill him. This meant, Xinhua said, that although she had "a weakened ability to control herself", Gu knew the consequences of the alleged crime and therefore "she should be identified as having the capacity to accept full criminal responsibility".

The report detailed the help Gu had from four police officers in Chongqing. It said the four decided to say Mr Heywood died from excessive drinking, even though he was not known as a heavy drinker, and covered up Gu's presence at the scene by fabricating interview records. The verdict in this trial, and that of Gu and Zhang, is expected to be delivered this week.

The murder came to light only in February when the former Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun fled to a US consulate and told diplomats of his suspicions that Mr Heywood had been murdered and that Bo's family was involved. Mr Wang is being detained, and will go on trial this week for treason.

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