Did Neil Heywood work for MI6?
Friends and officials say murdered businessman gave MI6 information on Bo Xilai – and had the numberplate '007' on his silver Jaguar
The British businessman murdered by the wife of the former Chinese politician Bo Xilai had been feeding information on the Bo family's private affairs to MI6 for more than a year before his death, it emerged yesterday.
Neil Heywood, who was found dead in the city of Chongqing almost a year ago, had been seen by some as a fantasist gripped by the idea of a James Bond lifestyle, not least because "007" was emblazoned on the number plate of his silver Jaguar, and he worked with Aston Martin.
However, friends of Mr Heywood and former British officials have told The Wall Street Journal that the businessman used his close relationship with Mr Bo, and his wife, Gu Kailai, to glean insights into the Communist Party's most prominent rising stars, which he then passed on to Britain's Secret Intelligence Service.
Mr Heywood became close to the Bo family in the 1990s, when Mr Bo was Mayor of Dalian in China's north-east, and was reportedly involved in helping the couple's son Bo Guagua get into Harrow. According to the report, Mr Heywood met an MI6 officer in 2009, and continued to meet that person regularly in China, providing them with information on Mr Bo's affairs. Mr Heywood had previously been linked to a London-based business-intelligence company, Hakluyt, founded by a former MI6 officer.
The Foreign Secretary, William Hague, issued a statement in April saying Mr Heywood was "not an employee of the British Government in any capacity". Associates of Mr Heywood said he was not an MI6 officer, and was "never in receipt of tasking" – he had not been given a mission or asked to seek out information – but he did provide a lot of information that sources described as "useful", the Journal reported.
Information on China's opaque political system and the private lives of its top leaders – regarded by China as state secrets – is sought after by Western governments trying to understand the world's second-largest economy.
There has been no official suggestion that Mr Heywood was killed because of his links to MI6. However, the connection may raise questions over why the British Government did not demand an autopsy or question the speedy cremation of Mr Heywood's body sooner. It also poses difficulties for Chinese authorities, which appear to have failed to spot an informant with access to the country's powerful inner circle for more than a year.
The events following Mr Heywood's death last year have sent shockwaves through China's political élite ahead of the country's once-in-a-decade power transition, the 18th Party Congress in Beijing, which begins tomorrow. Mr Bo, the former Communist Party chief of the city of Chongqing, where Mr Heywood was found dead in a hotel room, had been tipped to take a spot on the all-powerful Standing Committee of the Politburo at the Congress.
However, the Bo family's life began to unravel soon after Mr Heywood's death. After a brief police investigation, the cause of death was attributed to alcohol poisoning. But in February this year, then Chongqing police chief, Wang Lijun, turned up at the US consulate in Chengdu. According to The Wall Street Journal, Mr Wang told American officials that Ms Gu had murdered Mr Heywood and confessed to him that she had "killed a spy".
Within days of Mr Wang's arrival, the British embassy urged the Chinese to reopen the Heywood case. The case finally caught up with Mr Bo and Ms Gu on 15 March, when Mr Bo was stripped of his position in Chongqing.
Gu Kailai was convicted in August in what was widely seen as a show trial, in which she admitted killing Mr Heywood and was handed a suspended death sentence. According to the state-run Xinhua news agency, Ms Gu believed he threatened her son over a business dispute.
Mr Bo, who has not been seen since the scandal broke, has been expelled from the Communist Party, paving the way for his criminal prosecution over serious charges of corruption that go back to the early days of his career.
"Bo Xilai abused his powers of office, committed serious errors and bears a major responsibility," the government said in its charges. He is accused of having "maintained improper sexual relationships with a number of women". Speculation over how the Party will resolve the Bo Xilai crisis has been rife. It now appears content to wait until its Congress is over before taking action.
Timeline: The demise of a Communist party high-flier
15 November 2011
The body of Neil Heywood is found in a Chongqing hotel room. Chinese officials say Mr Heywood died from overconsumption of alcohol. Mr Heywood's family decide to have his body cremated just two days later, before a post-mortem could be performed.
6 February 2012
Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun, who is close to the city's Communist Party head Bo Xilai, flees to the US consulate in Chengdu. There, he makes allegations about Mr Heywood's death, and reportedly seeks asylum.
Foreign Secretary William Hague contacts the Chinese government to ask for an investigation into the circumstances surrounding Mr Heywood's death.
Bo is stripped of his Communist Party posts and his wife, Gu Kailai, is investigated over the death.
Gu and Zhang Xiaojun, a family employee, are charged with Mr Heywood's murder.
Gu given a suspended death sentence after a one-day trial.
Wang Lijun is jailed for 15 years after being charged with defection, abuse of power and taking bribes.
28 September, 2012
Bo is expelled from the Communist Party.
Bo is expelled from parliament – removing his immunity from prosecution.
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