The British businessman whose murder has sparked political upheaval in China was poisoned after he threatened to expose a plan by a Chinese leader’s wife to move money abroad, two sources with knowledge of the police investigation said.
It was the first time a specific motive has been revealed for Neil Heywood’s murder in November last year, a death that ended Chongqing party boss Bo Xilai’s (薄熙來) hopes of emerging as a top central leader and unbalanced the Chinese Communist Party’s looming leadership succession.
Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai (谷開來), asked Heywood late last year to move a large sum of money abroad, and she became outraged when he demanded a larger cut of the money than she had expected because of the size of the transaction, the sources said.
She accused him of being greedy and hatched a plan to kill him after he said he could expose her dealings, one of the sources said, summarizing the police case. Both sources have spoken to investigators in Chongqing, the southwestern Chinese city where Heywood was killed and where Bo had cast himself as a crime-fighting leader.
Gu is in police custody on suspicion of committing or arranging Heywood’s murder, though no details of the motive or the crime itself have been publicly released, other than a general comment from Chinese state media that he was killed after a financial dispute.
The sources have close ties to Chinese police and said they were given details of the investigation.
They said Heywood — formerly a close friend of Gu and who had been helping her with her overseas financial dealings — was killed after he threatened to expose what she was doing.
“Heywood told her that if she thought he was being too greedy, then he didn’t need to become involved and wouldn’t take a penny of the money, but he also said he could also expose it,” the first source said.
The sources said police suspected the 41-year-old was poisoned by a drink. They did not know precisely where he died in Chongqing, but they and other sources with access to official information say they believed Heywood was killed at a secluded hilltop retreat, the Nanshan Lijing Holiday Hotel, which is also marketed as the Lucky Holiday Hotel.
The sources said Gu and Heywood, who had lived in China since the early 1990s, shared a long and close personal relationship, but were not romantically involved.
The sources did not know details of the offshore transactions that Heywood facilitated for Gu, but said exposure of the deals would have imperiled her and her ambitious husband, who was campaigning for promotion to the top ranks of China’s leadership. Bo has since been ousted over the scandal.
“After Gu Kailai found that Heywood wouldn’t agree to go along and was even resisting with threats — that he could expose this money with unknown provenance — then that was a major risk to Gu Kailai and Bo Xilai,” said the first source, requesting anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case.
It was not possible to get official confirmation of the case police are building against Gu. The Chinese government did not respond to faxed questions about the case. Some of Bo’s leftist supporters have said the case could be a campaign to discredit him.
Gu, who is in custody and facing a possible death sentence for murder, and Bo could not be reached for comment. Bo has not been seen since appearing at parliament last month, when he held a news conference decrying the “filth” being poured on his family.