Bo Xilai, who was ousted as Communist Party secretary of Chongqing recently,… (Liu Jin, AFP/Getty Images )
Reporting from Beijing —
The British government has requested that China open an investigation into the mysterious death of a 41-year-old British businessman who had been friendly with the family of Bo Xilai, the recently purged Communist Party secretary of Chongqing.
Neil Heywood died in November in a Chongqing hotel; the cause was ruled to be "excessive alcohol consumption" and his body was cremated. But this year, the case was reopened "based on new information from one of our contacts," according to a spokesman for the British Embassy in Beijing.
"Our role is only consular.... We are requesting that the Chinese government investigate the death," the spokesman said Monday.
Heywood apparently met Bo, 62, a decade ago in Dalian, where Bo had been mayor. Heywood enjoyed sailing and luxury cars and was a graduate of the same elite British boarding school, Harrow, where Bo's son, Bo Guagua, later studied.
In London, Hakluyt & Co., a firm founded by former MI6 officers that advises businesses on risk, told reporters that Heywood had periodically provided consulting services, although he was not a full-time employee.
Heywood appeared to flit from job to job in China, where he had lived for more than a decade. He was photographed wearing a beige linen suit and green tie at a luxury goods conference where he was described as working for the car company Aston Martin. He also worked briefly as an advisor for a company doing initial public offerings of stock.
"He walked into our office one day, presenting himself as a consultant. He claimed he had done a few projects helping Chinese companies do IPOs abroad," said Shen Wei, who runs Beijing HL Consulting Co., which used to list Heywood as one of its advisors. Shen said Heywood never ended up doing any deals with the company and that it learned of his death only recently.
Rumors about Heywood's death have surfaced in recent days on Chinese websites, which have described him (apparently erroneously) as a butler for Bo's son. Though most posts have been quickly deleted, Chinese appear to be relishing a rare public intrigue.
Bo Xilai, wrote Chinese journalist Yang Haipeng, is like a "more insidious version of Lady Macbeth."
Bo, once a contender for high office in China, was sacked this month after one of his closest confidants sought political asylum at a U.S. consulate in southern China, claiming that his life was in danger. Wang Lijun, who had been a top police official, also turned over a stack of documents said to be incriminating.
According to a leaked Chinese investigative report, Wang had earlier confronted Bo with complaints from police who said they were being pressured in their investigation of a case related to Bo's family. Chinese websites have speculated that the case might be the death of the family friend, Heywood.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Wang told Bo he believed Heywood had been poisoned. In addition, the newspaper said a source claimed Bo's wife, Gu Kailai, a former lawyer, had a business dispute with Heywood.
The paper said Heywood had worked occasionally as a low-level "fixer" for the Bo family and might have helped Bo get his son into the exclusive Harrow school. Heywood's wife, who is Chinese, and two children live in Britain.