Chinese officials on Tuesday declined to either confirm or deny a report by The Wall Street Journal claiming Neil Heywood, the British businessman killed by the wife of purged Polit Bureau member Bo Xilai, was an informant of the MI6, Britain’s Secret Intelligence service.
Asked if China was made aware of Heywood’s links to the MI6 and if his status as an informer to the spy agency had impacted the handling of the case, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei told reporters the case of Mr. Bo “will be handled in accordance with party discipline and national law”.
Declining to either confirm or deny the report, Mr. Hong only added that “the Chinese judicial authorities had already made a ruling on the case of manslaughter by Gu Kailai and Zhang Xiaojun”.
Ms. Gu, the wife of Mr. Bo, was, in August, sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve for poisoning Heywood, while Mr. Zhang, an orderly at the Bo household who helped Ms. Gu poison the British businessman in a hotel in Chongqing, was given a nine-year prison term.
The Heywood case triggered China’s biggest political scandal in decades, leading to the expulsion of Mr. Bo, once a powerful politician in the 25-member Polit Bureau, from the party last month. The case complicated China’s leadership transition, which will begin on
Thursday when the 18th National Congress is convened, and embarrassed the leadership weeks ahead of the once-in-a-generation change.
Mr. Bo, who will stand trial, has been charged with the abuse of power, taking bribes and covering up the murder of Heywood.
Prosecutors at Ms. Gu’s trial had said the death of Heywood in a Chongqing hotel room was the result of a business dispute. Mr. Bo’s wife said during the proceedings that Heywood had threatened her son.
But the investigation into Heywood by the Journal, based on interviews with current and former officials of the MI6, raised new questions about the account given by prosecutors at the trial.
The newspaper found “he had been knowingly providing information about the Bo family” for more than a year, before he was murdered last November. He regularly met an MI6 officer and provided information about Mr. Bo’s private affairs, the report said.
The WSJ said while Heywood was an informer, he was not a MI6 officer. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said in April that he was not an employee of the British government in any capacity.
One of the mysteries of the scandal — unexplained by prosecutors — was why Heywood chose to go to Chongqing to meet Ms. Gu, if he had, as claimed by authorities during the trial, threatened her son. Mr. Bo was, at the time, the most powerful official in Chongqing as the party secretary.
The WSJ report said Heywood hadn’t seen Mr. Bo for more than a year when he travelled to Chongqing in November, but “appeared to be trying to persuade the Bo family to pay him money he felt he was owed”.
The newspaper also suggested that Mr. Bo might have been aware of his status as an informant to the MI6 at the time of his death.
When Wang Lijun, Mr. Bo’s former police chief in Chongqing, fled to a United States Consulate in Chengdu after falling out with his boss — an event which brought the scandal into the public domain — he told U.S. officials that Mr. Bo’s wife had thought he was a spy.
“Ms. Gu had confessed to him [Mr. Wang] that she ‘killed a spy’, according to one person who has seen a transcript of what Mr. Wang said,” the report claimed.