An elusive French architect is emerging as a key figure in China’s biggest political scandal in two decades, with evidence suggesting he shared both an affectionate and close business relationship with the Chinese woman at the heart of the scandal.
Patrick Henri Devillers, 52, is one of two Westerners in China known to have had close business ties to the family of deposed Chinese politician Bo Xilai (薄熙來), specifically with Bo’s wife, who is accused of murdering the other expatriate, Neil Heywood.
Until now, only Heywood was alleged to have had a close personal relationship with Bo’s glamorous wife, Gu Kailai (谷開來), a factor that has led Chinese police to treat his murder as one where intense feelings of betrayal played a part. Gu is alleged to have poisoned Heywood in November last year after a row over money.
However, one man who knew Heywood and Devillers during the pair’s association with the Bo family said Devillers had shown much more affection and intimacy toward Gu than Heywood had done, and that he had assumed Gu and the Frenchman were lovers.
“Heywood was an interesting and amusing character, [but] Devillers was the one who used to pat her on the back and put his arm around her in a restaurant. They were definitely, I would have said, an item,” British businessman Giles Hall said.
Hall had business dealings and socialized with Heywood, Devillers and Gu over a decade ago, mostly in Britain, where Bo’s wife was carrying out some business and her son was attending school. At the time, Bo was mayor of Dalian, in northeast China.
The suspicion Devillers had a romantic link with Gu — in addition to business ties — suggests the Frenchman could be more than a peripheral figure in the Bo scandal, details of which are sketchy. The police case against Gu has not been made public.
Devillers and Gu gave the same residential address when they set up a British company in 2000 — a top-story apartment in an office building in the faded resort town of Bournemouth. Some office workers inside the building said they remembered Gu from that time, but did not recall her having any male companions.
Devillers’ whereabouts are unknown. He declined to comment through his lawyer, Stephane Biver of the law firm Godfrey-Higuet, a specialist in international tax and finance law in Luxembourg.
His father and sister said they had had little or no contact with Devillers and did not know how to reach him.
Gu, a murder suspect, is under detention. Her husband has not made any public comments since March when he was sacked as party boss of China’s biggest municipality, Chongqing. Just before that, Bo accused his critics of pouring filth on him and his family.
Devillers’ father did not dismiss the suggestion that his son might have been sexually interested in Gu.
“It is possible, all the more since, according to the photos, she seemed attractive,” Michel Devillers said at his home in Rainans, a sleepy rural village in eastern France.
The Bo scandal is extraordinary on several levels, having brought down an ambitious high-ranking member of the Chinese Communist Party and ruffling a once-in-a-decade leadership transition in Beijing.
It has exposed the unusual extent to which an elite Communist Party family — Bo’s father was a revolutionary comrade of Mao Zedong (毛澤東) and Gu’s father a military hero — allowed foreigners so far into its inner circle and it raises questions about the family’s murky financial affairs.