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Crime & Corruption

Blackmail cited as Gu Kailai’s motive in a killing that shook China


Neil Heywood and Gu Kailai

Gu Kailai, the wife of one of China’s most ambitious leaders, plotted with allies, including the local police chief, to protect her son from what she saw as the blackmail demands of the British business associate she confessed in court to killing, according to accounts of the trial that emerged on Friday, including one from the state-run Xinhua news agency.

Prosecutors presented evidence at the trial on Thursday that the Briton, Neil Heywood, had demanded tens of millions of dollars from Ms. Gu’s son, locked him up in a residence in England and sent an e-mail threatening to “destroy” him. In response, prosecutors said, Ms. Gu sought help from the local police chief, who refused to go along with her plan to get rid of Mr. Heywood and secretly recorded her confession to him on the day after she poisoned Mr. Heywood.

The tale was designed to give a rare glimpse into the darkest corners of a Chinese ruling family and its foreign ties. While it was impossible to confirm details independently, the prosecution’s case portrayed a dramatic struggle between Ms. Gu, 53; her Oxford- and Harvard-educated son, Bo Guagua, 24; and Mr. Heywood, 41, a longtime friend and business associate whose body was found in November in a hotel in Chongqing, the fog-wreathed central China metropolis governed for more than four years by Ms. Gu’s husband, Bo Xilai, a Politburo member.

Ms. Gu and a family aide, Zhang Xiaojun, stood trial on Thursday in Hefei, Anhui Province. No verdict was delivered, but a court official said the defendants did not object to the charges. The details of the court arguments that emerged Friday were not included in a terse statement issued the previous day by officials.

An account of the trial was posted on Friday morning on renren.com, a social networking Web site, by Zhao Xiangcha, a university student in Anhui who said he had been in the courtroom. He said he had written it from memory after the seven-hour trial adjourned. Most of the account, which was deleted from his renren.com page around noon, was confirmed in telephone interviews with Li Xiaolin, a lawyer for Mr. Zhang, and another lawyer in the courtroom. Late Friday, Xinhua published an account with many of the same details.

In her statement to the court at the end of the trial, Ms. Gu confessed to murdering Mr. Heywood, the accounts said. “The case has been like a huge stone weighing on me for more than half a year,” Xinhua quoted her as telling the court. “What a nightmare.”

Many legal experts say the trial was political theatre and little more than a forum to present an official narrative of the crime. The defence was not able to cross-examine witnesses, and the session left many questions unanswered. For starters, it failed to address the towering issue of what Bo Xilai knew of the crime and whether he had a role in its execution or cover-up.

Bo Guagua, the son, declined to comment for this article. Mr. Heywood’s mother said before the trial that the case was rooted in palace intrigue and asked not to be disturbed this week by posting a note on the front door of her home in London. Mr. Heywood’s wife, who is Chinese, could not be reached for comment.

People at the trial said the defence lawyers argued that the poison might not have been enough to kill Mr. Heywood, and that he probably died from drinking too much alcohol that night. The lawyers also said that Ms. Gu suffered from manic depression and mild schizophrenia and was not in full control of her actions.

According to the courtroom accounts, Mr. Heywood, a longtime resident of China, met Bo Guagua in England in 2003, while Xinhua reported it was in 2005. Mr. Heywood hoped his relationship with the Bo family would help further his business ambitions in China. (Western news reports have said Mr. Heywood met the Bo family in the 1990s in China.)

Mr. Heywood was introduced to Xu Ming, a young billionaire and friend of the Bo family, in the northeast city of Dalian, where Bo Xilai had been mayor, and to a “princeling” executive at a state-owned enterprise surnamed Zhang. The businessmen later entered into real estate ventures that included a property deal in France and projects in Chongqing.

Prosecutors said that the Chinese ventures failed because of political interference. Mr. Heywood then demanded from Bo Guagua 14 million pounds, about $22 million, which was 10 percent of the money Mr. Heywood had expected to earn if the ventures had succeeded, according to Mr. Li, the lawyer. He added that the prosecutors said Mr. Heywood sent threatening e-mails last year to the younger Mr. Bo; in one, Mr. Heywood wrote in English that he would “destroy” Mr. Bo.

Mr. Heywood then locked Mr. Bo up in a home in England, according to Mr. Zhao’s account of the prosecutors’ case. Mr. Bo called his mother and told her about the abduction.

In Chongqing, Ms. Gu asked Wang Lijun, the police chief, for help, but Mr. Wang said he could do nothing. It then occurred to Ms. Gu that she needed to get rid of Mr. Heywood to protect her son, whom she called “little rabbit” in e-mails, prosecutors said.

According to Xinhua, Ms. Gu said: “The few days last November, when I learned my son’s life was at death’s door, my mind indeed collapsed.” In an earlier confession, prosecutors said, she had asserted, “I would fight with my life to stop Neil Heywood’s madness.”

Ms. Gu, called “big rabbit” by her son, spoke with Mr. Wang about trying to frame Mr. Heywood as a drug dealer; on a visit to Chongqing, Mr. Heywood would then be shot dead by Mr. Wang during an attempted arrest. Mr. Wang helped in the plotting, but then refused to take part. Ms. Gu came up with a new plan and obtained a poison used for dogs or rats. Seven people who helped her procure it were arrested after the scandal broke.

On Nov. 10, Zhang Xiaojun, 32, a retired soldier who was once a personal assistant to Ms. Gu’s father, an army general, flew to Beijing to invite Mr. Heywood to Chongqing. The prosecutors said Mr. Zhang was unaware of Ms. Gu’s intent to kill Mr. Heywood.

Ms. Gu told Mr. Wang, the police chief, about her scheme on the afternoon of Nov. 13. Then she had dinner with Mr. Heywood. After dinner, Ms. Gu asked a driver to buy a bottle of Royal Salute whisky. She prepared vials of the poison and handed them to Mr. Zhang. He now knew about the plan and was initially unwilling to take part but acquiesced because of his history with the Gu family, prosecutors said.

Around 11 p.m., they drove to the secluded Nanshan Lijing Resort, where Mr. Heywood was staying in Room 1605 of a villa. Ms. Gu went into the room alone and drank whisky with Mr. Heywood. He vomited and became woozy. Mr. Zhang came in and handed Ms. Gu the vials of poison. They put Mr. Heywood in bed. When he asked for water, Ms. Gu poured the poison into his mouth. She then spread drugs around the scene, prosecutors said. Ms. Gu and her associates left at 11:38 p.m.

The next day, Ms. Gu told Mr. Wang about the murder. He secretly recorded the conversation.

Hotel workers discovered Mr. Heywood’s body on Nov. 15. The police arrived, and Mr. Wang directed the investigation. To cover up Ms. Gu’s crime, he and several other officers managed to take away blood samples and other evidence for about a day, presumably to tamper with it.

In January, however, Mr. Wang had a falling-out with the elder Mr. Bo, who then demoted him. Mr. Wang drove to the American Consulate in Chengdu on Feb. 6 and told diplomats there about the killing during an overnight stay. He left the next day, and Chinese security officials escorted him to Beijing. Prosecutors said he gave his secret recording to the authorities.

Mr. Wang remains in detention and is expected to go on trial soon. On Friday evening, a court official in Hefei announced that four senior police officers tried that day for aiding Ms. Gu — Guo Weiguo, Li Yang, Wang Pengfei and Wang Zhi — had confessed to helping cover up the murder.

Mr. Bo was dismissed as Chongqing party chief and suspended from the Politburo after Mr. Wang turned on him. He is being investigated for “serious disciplinary violations.” His name was barely mentioned atthe trial.

New York Times
 
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Discussion

6 thoughts on “Blackmail cited as Gu Kailai’s motive in a killing that shook China

  1. The story seem implausible to me.

    It sounds like what a Chinese business person with no morals might do, and as such would be believable in Chinese court.

    Maybe it’s true, but I doubt it.

    Posted by Jay | August 12, 2012, 1:21 am
  2. Reblogged this on Insomniacs II.

    Posted by irmedeaca | August 31, 2012, 1:29 pm

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Pingback: China ends silence on Gu Kailai murder case « China Daily Mail - August 12, 2012

  2. Pingback: China court hands Gu Kailai death sentence with reprieve « China Daily Mail - August 20, 2012

  3. Pingback: Tight security as China opens police chief trial « China Daily Mail - September 17, 2012

  4. Pingback: China hints at lenient sentence against ex-cop « China Daily Mail - September 18, 2012

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