The Bo Xilai saga continues: The latest news concerns the mysterious death of a British businessman with close ties to Bo, the former high-ranking Communist party official from Chongqing who was purged earlier this month. The businessman, Neil Haywood, had known Bo since the early 1990s, and they were said to be close friends.
According to the Financial Times, “Chongqing police quickly ruled Mr Heywood’s death was caused by ‘excessive alcohol consumption’ and had the body cremated, but people who knew Mr Heywood say he was not a heavy drinker.” The British Embassy has asked China to reopen the investigation into Heywood’s death after concerns were raised by the British community living in Beijing.
A spokesman for the Bo family denied reports that Heywood had been involved in a business dispute with Bo’s wife. The spokesman also questioned the timing of the UK request, suggesting it could be politically motivated. Heywood died in November, and the request was issued only after Bo was removed from his post as Party chief on March 14. Indeed, the FT noted that “family members had been content with how the Chinese authorities had handled the case at that time.”
The rumor mills in China are spinning overtime, as speculation about western involvement and American plots swirls in the absence of hard news or credible journalistic outlets. Where little is known, anything seems possible, and the news of British connection will only heighten public interest in the most gripping political spectacle in China in 20 years.
If China had hoped to showcase a quiet, orderly transition of power following the political purge, those hopes had already been dashed. Heywood’s death adds further intrigue—and international scrutiny—to an already charged atmosphere in Beijing. This is not the script that China had in mind for its political transition.