The spectacular fall from grace of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leader Bo Xilai i (薄熙來) has triggered a riveting political scandal seeped in twists and turns worthy of a Hollywood thriller or detective novel.
Bo’s sacking as head of the party head of Chongqing, his purge from the powerful politburo and the revelation that his wife is a suspect in the alleged murder of a Briton feed into what has become China’s biggest political scandal in decades.
“Bo will be the first member of the Political bureau [politburo] since the founding of the People’s Republic of China to potentially be implicated in a murder,” said Hu Xingdou (胡星斗), a professor at the Beijing Institute of Technology.
His is a story of betrayal, hunger for power and money, which remains shrouded in plenty of mystery while the rumor mill goes into overdrive, particularly on foreign Chinese Web sites not blocked by the nation’s censors.
The scandal combines all the necessary ingredients for a blockbuster — a rising political star, who sees his huge ambitions brutally cut short, and his wife, investigated over the murder of a foreigner who may have been poisoned.
It also throws China’s Communist elite into the spotlight, hinting at a gilded life lived beyond the law.
Six months prior to an important party congress, it is a huge embarrassment for Chinese leaders who live hidden behind the high walls of Zhongnanhai in Beijing and are used to more discretion.
“This is all very significant with regards to the state of China today, where money and power are inextricably linked,” Beijing-based China expert Michel Bonnin said, adding the scandal was a “first” in modern China.
The saga has also taken on an international dimension with Neil Heywood, the British businessman whose death in Chongqing in November last year is being investigated as murder.
Authorities say Bo’s wife Gu Kailai (谷開來), may have been involved.
To add to this, the scandal only burst into the open in February when Bo’s right-hand man and former head of the Chongqing police Wang Lijun (王立軍) fled in an apparent panic to a US consulate, allegedly sought asylum and handed over information about his former boss.
China’s tightly controlled media has only published official information about the case, but behind this facade of unity, rumors, comments and questions are swirling.
For instance, how exactly did Heywood die? People close to him cited by British newspaper the Times said the theory that he had drunk too much alcohol did not stand up, as he was never a heavy drinker.
The Hong Kong-based Mingjing Web site, quoting party sources, alleged that an official in Chongqing admitted to police that he had provided one of Bo’s men with potassium cyanide to get rid of Heywood.
However, the authorities are going to have a hard time proving anything, as the Briton’s body was quickly cremated, rendering it impossible to conduct an autopsy.
Another question is who wanted Heywood dead?
Bo’s wife, a successful lawyer and businesswoman, has been named as a prime suspect.
Xinhua news agency revealed on Tuesday that Gu and her son Bo Guagua (薄瓜瓜) “had conflict [with Heywood] over economic interests, which had been intensified.”
According to the Wall Street Journal, Gu was investigated for corruption in 2007, after which she grew increasingly neurotic and suffered from depression.