Investigations surrounding death of Briton bring state funding into focus

  • @cliffordcoonan

Investigators probing the affairs of China's fallen Communist Party heavyweight Bo Xilai have turned their attention to the state funds worth billions of dollars spent in the city of Chongqing under his leadership.

Following the the death Neil Heywood, a British business associate of the Bo family, Mr Bo is at the centre of a scandal that has seen him sacked as party secretary for Chongqing and suspended from the powerful Politburo for alleged serious violations of discipline. His wife, Gu Kailai, and a former member of the Bo household, Zhang Xiaojun, are suspects in the death.

The success of infrastructure development projects in Chongqing, the world's fastest growing municipality, had prompted the coining of the term "Chongqing model". Now, investigators are taking a closer look at the government spending behind the schemes, including a tree-planting project which cost almost £1bn a year, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Mr Bo's populist programmes, which included funding for low-cost housing, earned him huge regard in Chongqing, but their echo of projects from the Cultural Revolution era is thought to have angered President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao. During Mr Bo's tenure, subsidies worth at least hundreds of millions of pounds were devoted to teachers to ensure equal pay with civil servants; medical insurance schemes for workers made redundant were introduced; and plans were in place to spend hundreds of billions of pounds on transforming the city into "a green Chongqing, transport Chongqing, safe Chongqing, a healthy Chongqing and a livable Chongqing".

Fresh speculation has emerged over what prompted Mr Bo's police chief, Wang Lijun, to seek asylum in the US consulate in Chengdu, which began the scandal earlier this year.

Yazhou Zhoukan, a newspaper based in Hong Kong, has reported that Mr Bo had three of Mr Wang's close associates, who had been investigating the death of Mr Heywood, tortured and killed after it emerged that Ms Gu was implicated.

Quoting sources familiar with the investigation, the Chinese-language weekly said the investigators were reportedly tortured, with three dying in the process, prompting Mr Wang to rush to Chengdu for his own safety.