Former Chongqing party chief Bo Xilai at first backed the probe into his wife's role in the death of British businessman Neil Heywood, but soon reversed course and tried to suppress the investigation, a source with close links to officials said.
CHONGQING, CHINA (APRIL 15, 2012) (REUTERS) - Chinese leader Bo Xilai at first went along with the probe into the his wife's role in the murder of a British national but within days abruptly reversed course and decided to oust his police chief, Wang Lijun, who was leading the probe, a source with close links to officials said on Sunday (April 15).
In a tense meeting in Bo's office in January, Wang confronted Bo with the evidence implicating his wife, Gu Kailai, in the death of Neil Heywood.
"On January 18, two months after Heywood's death, Wang Lijun went to Bo Xilai and informed him of the case. Bo was shocked and outraged after he learnt about the murder. He asked Wang to leave saying he wanted to be alone and clear his mind. When Wang returned half an hour later, Bo said to him that the issue carried too much significance and he would seriously punish his wife Gu Kailai," said Wang Kang, a well-connected Chongqing businessman who has learned some details of the case from Chinese officials.
Over the next 48 hours, however, Bo shifted completely and decided to protect his wife, oust Wang and squash the case.
"That means Bo Xilai also believed that his wife was involved in Heywood's murder. He didn't deny it. However, things took a quick turn two days later on the 20th. Bo called a standing committee meeting and deposed Wang Lijun as the police chief. Outsiders may never know what kind of deal Bo reached with Gu during the two days, but the result was the couple chose to face Wang Lijun side by side," said Wang.
Separate sources with knowledge of the police investigation, who did not want to be identified, also confirmed to Reuters the details on Bo's abrupt flip flop and his meeting of senior city officials that stripped Wang of his police portfolio, betrayals that led his once close friend to fear for his own safety and protect himself.
The accounts further explain what prompted Wang's bizarre but calculated dash into the U.S. Consulate on Feb. 6, triggering the scandal that would bring down all three of them.
The same sources also told Reuters that Heywood was poisoned after he threatened to expose a plan by Bo's wife Gu Kailai to move money abroad.
They did not know precisely where he died in Chongqing. But sources with access to official information say they believe Heywood was killed at a secluded hilltop retreat, the Nanshan Lijing Holiday Hotel, which is also marketed as the Lucky Holiday Hotel.
"The murder was said to take place at the Nanshan Lijing Holiday Hotel in Chongqing's Nan'an district. I have been to that hotel before. It is not a luxurious hotel, but has a nice view of the mountain and river. It is located in a quiet area, very suitable for carrying out a murder as nobody would notice," said Wang.
It is not possible to contact Gu, Bo or Wang for comment. Gu is now in custody for Heywood's murder, Bo is being held for violating party rules and Wang potentially faces treason charges, though his murder case now has been legitimized and appears central to the disciplinary investigation into Bo and his family.
It was not possible to get official confirmation of the case police are building against Gu.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry only confirmed that the Heywood case was under investigation on Monday (April 16).
"The Heywood case has entered the judicial process, and China is conducting an investigation. Investigation takes time, I believe China will handle the case based on law and release information in real time," spokesman Liu Weimin told a regular news conference in Beijing.
Some Chongqing citizens said they were not aware of the scandal, while others picked up bits of information from the Internet.
"I am not aware. We ordinary people don't know things like that. I have no idea," said Mr. Yan.
"(I heard) his wife killed someone, his wife committed murder. He deposed Wang Lijun to protect his own interest as Wang threatened to expose him. That is what I heard," said 20-year-old college student Zhang Chong.
Bo was stripped of all his party positions last week, ending his bid to join the upper echelons of the Chinese leadership at a Party Congress late this year, and opening the door to jockeying among rivals to get a place in the new lineup.