Dead Briton 'kept secret file on purged party boss'

  • @cliffordcoonan

Shortly before his death, British businessman Neil Heywood told a friend that he had left documents on the financial affairs of purged Communist Party member Bo Xilai with a lawyer in the UK as an "insurance policy" should anything happen to him, it emerged yesterday.

Mr Bo's wife, Gu Kailai, is "strongly suspected" of murdering Mr Heywood in Chongqing in November and is in police custody. Mr Bo, who had been a favourite to join China's ruling Standing Committee of the Politburo before his recent fall from grace, is being investigated for serious disciplinary violations.

Mr Bo's dismissal from the Party's powerful Central Committee and its Politburo has caused the biggest political upset in decades in China, months before a crucial, once-in-a-decade leadership transition.

Mr Heywood had told his friend he was "in trouble" after being called to Chongqing for a meeting with representatives of Mr Bo's family, the Wall Street Journal reported. It was not clear whether the documents the friend referred to had been found. The friend also said Mr Heywood was unable to reach any of his usual contacts after arriving in Chongqing. Hours later, he was dead. An initial police report blamed the death on alcohol poisoning. British officials say local authorities cremated the body without an autopsy. Mr Heywood's family said they were told he had died from a heart attack.

The Chinese government has since said it suspects Mr Heywood was murdered by Mr Bo's wife and her family orderly. State-run media have been urging the Communist Party to back Mr Bo's dismissal. President Hu Jintao and other party bosses have attempted to quell further fights within the leadership as senior party members jostle to gain advantage from Mr Bo's expulsion.

The forced departure of Mr Bo has been likened to previous purges in the Communist Party, such as the removal of Shanghai Party boss Chen Liangyu in 2007 and the mysterious plane crash in 1971 which killed Lin Biao, amid rumours he was planning a coup to depose Mao Zedong.