It’s a year since British businessman Neil Heywood was lured to a hotel in Chongqing, south west China, and given cyanide by Gu Kailai, the lawyer wife of Bo Xilai – previously tipped to be a future leader of China.
This story is as intriguing as a novel about spies and international relations. Someone will write this book, if they aren’t already.
Heywood had been friends with China’s ruling Communist party’s expelled high-level politician Bo, and wife Gu, for years after being hired to teach their son English, and had an intimate knowledge of their private affairs.
It is said he advised MI6 on Bo’s affairs on a freelance basis.
Gu then killed Heywood last year.
According to an account presented at the trial of Gu Kailai, Bo’s wife and Heywood’s alleged killer, Gu murdered Heywood by poisoning him with cyanide in his hotel room in Chongqing.
Heywood’s body was cremated without an autopsy. His family was told that he died of a heart attack, while the Journal said British authorities were advised he had died from excessive alcohol consumption.
The alleged murder plot against Heywood began to unravel after Chongqing’s former police chief, Wang Lijun, took refuge briefly in a US consulate in China and reportedly told American diplomats about Gu’s role in Heywood’s murder and her husband’s involvement in corruption.
Gu was subsequently convicted of Heywood’s murder and given a suspended death sentence. Bo Xilai was sacked from the Communist Party’s Politburo and now awaits trial on charges of corruption and abuse of power.
But then came a small twist – a report in the Wall Street Journal claims that a person Mr Heywood met in 2009 later acknowledged being an MI6 officer to him.
This twist comes shortly before the country’s once-in-a-decade change of leadership and could prove damaging to relations with the UK.
Heywood had lived in Beijing with his wife and two children, and later met that person regularly to pass on information on Mr Bo’s affairs. The British government had previously denied that Heywood was a spy, and that he had nothing to do with the British government back in April.
So, he might have fancied himself as a spy and had tried to live like one too, after all, he had a Jaguar and the “007” digits in his personal number plate.
The Journal reported that Heywood had not been paid for information by MI6 and that the British agency had not given him “tasking,” meaning it had not asked him to perform specific assignments or dig up specific information.
The Journal said Heywood had dealings with various British companies and politicians, including a member of the House of Lords who met Heywood several times in the company of his MI6 contact.
While Heywood’s high-level Chinese contacts were impressive, there are indications that British authorities regarded him as unreliable and treated him and his information with caution.
Gu is said to have committed the murder after a business deal involving property had gone bad – she said Heywood was going to destroy her son, Bo Guagua, 24, unless he was paid £13 million for commission on a property deal.
After the murder plot was unravelled, police reopened the case, and five police officers were also found guilty and jailed for trying to cover up the case.
So we’ll have to trust British Foreign Secretary William Hague’s words from April that while it was usual government policy “neither to confirm nor deny speculation of this sort”, that, “given the intense interest in this case it is, exceptionally, appropriate… to confirm that Mr Heywood was not an employee of the British government in any capacity.”
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