News / Asia

Slain Briton at Center of Chinese Scandal a Spy

A combination of two photographs shows British businessman Neil Heywood (L), May 26, 2010, and Gu Kailai, wife of China's former Chongqing Municipality Communist Party Secretary Bo Xilai.
A combination of two photographs shows British businessman Neil Heywood (L), May 26, 2010, and Gu Kailai, wife of China's former Chongqing Municipality Communist Party Secretary Bo Xilai.
VOA News
A major U.S. newspaper says it has found evidence that a British businessman murdered by the wife of Bo Xilai, once one of China's top politicians, was working as an informant for Britain's spy agency, MI6.

The Wall Street Journal said Tuesday its investigation found that Neil Heywood was providing MI6 information on the Bo family for more than a year before he was murdered last November.  The investigation was based on interviews with British officials and friends of Heywood.

VOA Crossroads interview with China scholar Steve Tsang
VOA Crossroads interview with China scholar Steve Tsangi
|| 0:00:00

Timeline of the Bo Xilai Scandal

  • February 2: Bo's key ally and Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun is demoted
  • February 6: Wang visits U.S. consulate in Chengdu
  • March 15: Bo dismissed as Chongqing party chief
  • March 26: Britain asks China to investigate November death of Briton Neil Heywood in Chongqing
  • April 10: Bo suspended from Communist Party posts. China says Gu is being investigated for Heywood's death
  • August 20: Gu given suspended death sentence after confessing to Heywood's murder
  • September 24: Wang convicted of defection, power abuse and bribe taking
  • September 28: Communist Party expels Bo

  • July 25: Bo indicted for bribery, corruption, abuse of power
  • August 22: Bo trial begins in Jinan
  • September 22: Bo sentenced to life in prison
Gu Kailai, the wife of former Politburo member Bo Xilai, was convicted in August of murdering the 41-year-old Heywood because of what a Chinese court said was a business dispute.  Many of Heywood's friends have said there were inconsistencies with the official account of the murder, which happened in the southwest city of Chongqing, where Bo was party chief.

The British government has tried to distance itself from Heywood, who was previously rumored to have had links to London's spy agency.  In April, Foreign Secretary William Hague took the unusual step of commenting on intelligence matters, insisting that Heywood was "not an employee of the British government in any capacity."

The Journal said its investigation found that, although Heywood was not paid or directed by MI6, he was a "willful and knowing informant" of the spy agency.  It quoted anonymous officials saying his efforts, which included providing information on Bo's private affairs, had been "useful."  But the paper said that British or Chinese officials have not suggested he was killed because of suspected MI6 links.

A freelance business consultant, the flamboyant Heywood is believed to have had connections to the Bo family since the 1990s.  Friends say Heywood was always immaculately dressed and even drove around Beijing in a silver Jaguar with license plates reading "007," the code name of the fictional British spy, James Bond.

A China scholar at the University of Nottingham in Britain, Steve Tsang, told VOA it would be a stretch to call Heywood a spy, saying instead he probably only provided information to MI6.  Tsang praised the author of The Wall Street Journal article, Jeremy Page.

"I think it’s a great piece of investigative journalism in terms of what the journalist Jeremy Page has found out," he said. "On the other hand, what the story also tells us is that Heywood was not an employee of the British secret intelligence service and that he was not a paid agent of the British secret intelligence service."

Tsang also said Heywood's flamboyance is a sign that he was not a spy.

"Absolutely.  I think if Mr. Heywood had been an employee of the secret intelligence service or a paid agent of the secret intelligence service, I think he would have been advised to take a different profile and not advertising that he would like to be 007," he said.   

Chinese officials originally said Heywood's death was the result of alcohol poisoning, and his body was quickly cremated.  But in February, Bo's ex-police chief Wang Lijun fled to a U.S. consulate in Chengdu and told diplomatic officials he had information on Gu's involvement in the murder.  Gu was later given a suspended death sentence for the murder, while Wang was convicted of attempted defection, abuse of power and taking bribes.

The scandal wrecked the career of Bo, a rising star in Chinese politics, who was once considered a favorite for a top post in a once-a-decade leadership transition that begins this week.  Bo has been expelled from the Communist Party and is under investigation for charges including corruption and interfering with Heywood's murder investigation.

  • In this photo released by the Jinan Intermediate People's Court, Bo Xilai is handcuffed and held by police officers as he stands at the court in Jinan, in eastern China's Shandong province, Sept. 22, 2013.
  • A minivan believed to be carrying Bo Xilai arrives at the Jinan Intermediate People's Court ahead of the fifth day of Bo's trial, August 26, 2013. 
  • In this image taken from video, Bo Xilai addresses a court at Jinan Intermediate People's Court in eastern China's Shandong province, Aug. 24, 2013.
  • A woman protests outside the Jinan Intermediate People's Court, eastern China's Shandong province, August 21, 2013.
  • Gu Kailai, wife of Bo Xilai, is seen in a still image taken from an August 10, 2013 video provided by the Jinan Intermediate People's Court.
  • Policemen are seen at a court building where the trial for Bo Xilai was held in Jinan, Shandong province.
  • Former police chief Wang Lijun speaks during a court hearing in Chengdu, China, in this still image taken from CCTV video, Sept. 18, 2012.
  • This video image taken from CCTV shows Gu Kailai, wife of Bo Xilai, being taken into the Intermediate People's Court in the eastern Chinese city Hefei, August 9, 2012.
  • Police officers stand guard at the Hefei City Intermediate People's Court for the murder trial of Gu Kailai, Anhui Province, China, August 9, 2012.
  • A  combonation photo showing Neil Heywood and Gu Kailai.
  • Bo Xilai, walks past Communist Party leaders at the National People's Congress in Beijing, March 9, 2012.
  • Bo Xilai, right and his son, Bo Guagua, 2007.

You May Like

Video Russia’s Syrian Escalation Tests Obama’s Crisis Response

Critics once again question whether president has been slow to act on Syrian conflict, thus creating opening for powers like Russia More

Ancient African DNA Shows Mass Migration Back Into Africa

First genetic analysis of ancient human remains in Africa suggests massive migration from north around time of Egyptian empire More

NASA: Pluto Has Blue Sky

New photos also reveal the presence of water ice More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugeesi
Henry Ridgwell
October 08, 2015 8:02 PM
Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

VOA Blogs