The wife of disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai (薄熙來) was told several years ago by a doctor that her nervous system had suffered irreversible damage because she had been steadily ingesting poison that someone had slipped into the capsules of her daily herbal medicine, one of her lawyers said in an interview this week.
Gu Kailai (谷開來) discovered the poisoning after she fainted in 2007 at the funeral of her father-in-law, a Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leader, said the lawyer, Li Xiaolin. He added that Gu became withdrawn and curtailed her trips outside her home after learning of the plot. Li said that Gu genuinely believed that someone was trying to kill her, but that he did not know who she suspected.
The new details of Gu’s suspicions of a murder plot further reveal the atmosphere of fear and tension in the Bo household, which might have contributed to the death in November last year of British businessman Neil Heywood, who had known the family for years.
In August, a court convicted Gu, a lawyer, of poisoning Heywood after believing that he posed a threat to her son. Legal experts have questioned the trial and the official narrative of the killing.
Last month, the CCP announced that Bo would be prosecuted for crimes that included abuse of power and taking bribes. The scandal has disrupted China’s once-a-decade leadership transition scheduled to begin this fall.
Li had previously said that Gu believed she was the victim of a poisoning plot, but not exactly when those fears began or how she believed that the poison had been administered.
Li said that before 2007, Gu had been taking a rare and expensive herbal medicine that Chinese call “winter worm, summer grass” for longevity and better health. The medicine, which Gu was ingesting in capsules filled with red powder, became popular with middle-class and wealthy Chinese in recent years. It is made from a parasitic fungus found on the Tibetan plateau that uses caterpillars as hosts and kills them.
Gu fainted in January 2007 at the funeral of Bo’s father, Bo Yibo (薄一波), one of the “eight immortals” of the CCP known for guiding China’s economic transformation, Li said. Photographs of the funeral that have circulated on the Internet show Gu dressed in black and looking gaunt while greeting party leaders and army generals. Li said a family member who met Gu at the funeral after not having seen her for a while “was shocked by how much weight Gu Kailai had lost and how frail she looked.”
After the fainting incident, a doctor looked into all possible causes, Li said. The doctor discovered that the red powder in Gu’s capsules had a mix of lead and mercury, he said. One of the effects of the poison was that it caused Gu’s hands to shake, so she took up knitting and embroidery at the doctor’s recommendation, Li added.
Li Danyu (李丹宇), Bo’s first wife, said in an earlier interview that Bo and his family suspected Li Wangzhi (李望知), her son from her marriage with Bo, of masterminding the poisoning. Bo relayed his suspicions in October last year to Li Danyu’s older brother, who is married to Gu’s older sister, Li Danyu said.
She said her son was not involved in any murder plot and that Gu might have been seeking to frame him. She said he last saw his father in 2007, at the funeral of the grandfather, where Gu was said to have fainted. Bo’s family told the first son to stand at the rear of the family procession.