China's most significant political development in the 2000s and 2010s in many ways was scandal that broke in early 2012, involving Bo Xilai, the ambitious and charismatic Chongqing party boss who made a name for himself as an anticorruption and crime fighter and somehow combined neo-Maoist populism with business-friendly policies. He was removed as Chongqing’s party leader after his deputy fled to the U.S. consulate in February, 2012. The incident was followed by accusations of corruption and abuse of power involving Bo and his family. By April Bo had lost his party politburo and central committee posts. Bo, his wife, Gu Kailai. and his deputy were subsequently convicted in 2012 and 2013 of various charges, including murder charges against Gu Kailai. [Source: Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed., Columbia University Press]

Bo Xilai and Gu Kailai met in the early 1980s and were married in 1986, news reports have said. Bo, who was divorced at the time, had a son from his first marriage. Bo, Gu and Guagua, the couple's only child, were unusual in seeking the spotlight. Her much-photographed short, chic haircut contrasted with the frumpy look favored by most top leaders' wives. When Bo governed the port city Dalian in the 1990s, Gu ran a law firm and consultancy. Journalist Jiang Weiping, later imprisoned for documenting corruption in Bo's circle, claims her firms channeled bribes from Taiwanese and foreign investors. She went by the English name "Horus," referring to the falcon-headed Egyptian god of war, and depicted herself as a fearless attorney in her book, "Uphold Justice in America". [Source: Benjamin Kang Lim and Lucy Hornby, Reuters, August 6, 2012]

“The daughter of a revolutionary luminary, Gu, Kailai was among the first generation of lawyers educated after the Cultural Revolution, the decade of social chaos during which schools were closed, “ the New York Times reported. “Gu’s family pedigree includes a father who helped lead Communist resistance to the Japanese in the 1930s and 1940s. Married to Bo Xilai, she reveled in her brash, ambitious ways...Admirers bragged that Ms. Gu, a pioneering lawyer who spoke fluent English, was China’s answer to Jacqueline Onassis. In a nation that prefers the wives of political leaders to be bland adornments, Gu Kailai was positively fluorescent. As her husband rose through the party hierarchy, she ran successful law practice and wrote a book on the foibles of American courts “ and what she described as the ruthless efficiency of China’s legal system. [Source: Andrew Jacobs, New York Times, July 26, August 20, 2012; Michael Wines, New York Times, May 6, 2012]

According to the New York Times: Gu Kailai rose to prominence as a lawyer by handling several high-profile cases, and is believed to have been the first Chinese lawyer to win a civil case in the U.S. She also wrote several popular books, including "Winning a Case in the United States." Mr. Bo told a news conference during the annual meeting of parliament this month—his last public appearance—that his wife had given up her legal career two decades ago so that it wouldn't appear that she profited from his position. "She now basically just stays at home, doing some housework for me. I'm really touched by her sacrifice," he said.

“Courage is more important than wisdom,” she once wrote in a book that detailed her successful pursuit of a case in an American court that yielded a $1 million settlement. The book was something of a sensation and led to the creation of a popular television show whose protagonist “ a comely, quick-witted legal crusader “ was based on Ms. Gu. Her legal practice first in Dalian then Chongqing—where Bo Xilai was the Communist Party chief—flourished, thanks in part to the connections of her husband, who later became commerce minister. “They were like royalty in Dalian,” said Edward O. Byrne, an American lawyer who helped Ms. Gu file her 1997 lawsuit in the United States and later spent time with the couple in China. “The people who worked for them would refer to them as the Kennedys of China.”

Gu Kailai Becomes Mentally Unhinged and Paranoid as as Bo Xilai Becomes More Famous

Benjamin Kang Lim and Lucy Hornby of Reuters wrote: “Despite enjoying great privilege, Gu lost her professional identity as her husband's political career flourished. In China, most wives of high-ranking cadres fade discreetly into the background and many high-ranking women are unmarried. Bo's rising political star forced her to stop working to avoid the appearance of conflict of interest, but the decision appeared to have taken a toll on her. "Ever since she stepped down, she lives like a hermit and doesn't attend any social events. When Dad wants her to come to events, she won't," Bo Guagua said in a 2009 interview with the Chengdu Evening News, later expunged from its website. "I can understand, she is most unwilling to exist in Dad's shadow, and lose herself. Right now she reads all day and studies comparative literature." [Source: Benjamin Kang Lim and Lucy Hornby, Reuters, August 6, 2012]

For a time, Gu channeled her considerable energy into her son's education, tapping Heywood to help get him into school and moving with the boy to Britain. On her orders, Heywood pulled strings with British expats in Beijing to help get the youngster into Oxford, said one woman who met him then. While in Britain, Gu attempted to go into business, selling promotional hot air balloons to Dalian and other Chinese cities. Heywood assisted with the arrangements. She registered a company in the south of England with French architect Patrick Devillers, who left Dalian and divorced his Chinese wife around the same time.

Bo and Gu both came from pedigreed revolutionary families, with connections that brought power and wealth. Elite Chinese live in a world of infighting and suspicion, enduring repeated corruption probes, phone tapping and worries about betrayal. Gu's increasing paranoia after she returned to China could have intensified in the febrile atmosphere in Chongqing, where the couple moved in 2007. Bo launched a bloody "strike black" anti-mafia campaign against alleged gangsters, featuring lurid tales of murder and corruption. [Source: Benjamin Kang Lim and Lucy Hornby, Reuters, August 6, 2012]

Bo promoted choral songs from the Cultural Revolution, a dog-eat-dog period of political chaos in which his own mother died in the custody of fanatical Red Guards. For Gu, the songs would have revived memories of a time when her parents were purged and she and her sisters were left to fend for themselves. Her behavior became particularly unstable around the time of Heywood's death in November last year. She strode into a meeting of police officials wearing the uniform of a major-general - the same rank as her father. In a rambling speech she told the startled audience that she was on a mission to protect Wang. Less than three months later, he accused her of murder.

Edward Wong and David Barboza wrote in the New York Times: “Just months before his fall from power, Bo Xilai asked the brother of his first wife to meet him at a government compound in the southwest metropolis of Chongqing. Mr. Bo pointed to a stack of papers and said he had forensic reports that proved the existence of a continuing plot to poison his second wife, Gu Kailai. Then he asked the other man to step into the yard and turn off his cellphone. The person suspected of masterminding the scheme, Mr. Bo said, was his son from his first marriage, Li Wangzhi, also known as Brendan Li, a graduate of Columbia University who was working in finance in Beijing. “Could this be true?” Mr. Bo asked. When the brother-in-law insisted the fears were outlandish, Mr. Bo seemed relieved. [Source: Edward Wong and David Barboza, New York Times, October 6, 2012]

Several people close to Mr. Bo’s family said they had heard Ms. Gu was poisoned at one time, and that there was extreme paranoia within the household in recent years. But three family friends who spoke on the condition of anonymity said they did not believe Ms. Gu was fabricating evidence about Ms. Li’s son. They said Ms. Li had long resented Ms. Gu and waged private attacks against Mr. Bo and Ms. Gu to discredit them.

The story, recounted in two recent interviews with Mr. Bo’s estranged first wife, Li Danyu, 62, deepens the Shakespearean dimension of a scandal that has gripped this nation and disrupted the party’s once-a-decade leadership transition. In the interviews, the first she has given to a news organization, Ms. Li spoke in detail about her marriage to Mr. Bo, giving a rare glimpse into the early life and thoughts of the son of a revolutionary leader and someone whom Ms. Li described as an idealist enamored of communism. “We believed we needed to save the rest of the world from the hell of capitalism,” she said.

Ms. Li said that although there has been a long history of enmity between her and Ms. Gu, her son never conspired to murder Ms. Gu. Another family member confirmed that Ms. Li’s brother had met with Mr. Bo and had been told of the alleged plot. He also insisted the son was innocent. The son and his uncle both declined to comment. Mr. Bo and Ms. Gu are under detention.

Although she has no proof, Ms. Li said she suspected Ms. Gu was the one who first blamed her son for the perceived murder plot, and the so-called forensic evidence might have been provided by Wang Lijun, the former police chief convicted of helping cover up Mr. Heywood’s murder. Ms. Li said she feared Ms. Gu wanted to have her first son arrested or harmed. ‘she can be that paranoid,” Ms. Li said. As for Mr. Bo, she said, he was “good in nature and didn’t want to believe this evidence.”

The web of entanglements among the families reflects the insular nature of China’s “red nobility.” Ms. Li’s older brother, Li Xiaoxue, is married to Ms. Gu’s older sister, the daughter of an army general. It was this brother who met last October, weeks before Mr. Heywood’s death, with Mr. Bo in Chongqing. Li Xiaolin, a lawyer associated with Ms. Gu and no relation to Mr. Bo’s ex-wife, said in a telephone interview that Ms. Gu and her family members believed she had been poisoned years earlier with a heavy metal substance. He said that he did not know whom she blamed for the poisoning. Mr. Li said that Ms. Gu’s shaking hands, evident at the trial in August, were a result of the poisoning. Ms. Gu had even taken up knitting on her doctor’s advice to try to regain control of her hand muscles, he said.

Neil Heywood and His Mysterious Death

On November 15, 2011 the body of Neil Heywood, a Briton who had connections with Gu Kailai, Bo Xilai and their son Bo Guagua was found in a villa at the Nanshan Lijing Resort on the outskirts of Chongqing. Local authorities swiftly declared that he died of "excessive alcohol consumption," and cremated the body without an autopsy. Afterwards friends raised suspicions with the British embassy, pointing out that Heywood was a teetotaler.

“The Wall Street Journal reported: “Mr. Heywood appeared to be working as an independent businessman and consultant, according to friends and acquaintances. He told several of them that he had close ties to the Bo family and could help to arrange meetings and business deals there. Several said he was connected to the Bo family through his Chinese wife, who was from the northeastern city of Dalian, where Mr. Bo was mayor from 1993 until 2001. He also worked as a nonexecutive director of Beijing Martin, a local dealer for Aston Martin, the Britain-based automobile company. Aston Martin confirms that but said he wasn't directly employed by Aston Martin and hadn't been working for them in any way in Chongqing. [Source: Jeremy Page, Wall Street Journal, March 27, 2012]

“According to Wikipedia: Neil Heywood (20 October 1970 “ 14 November 2011) was a British businessman who worked in China. Born in 1970, he attended the English public school Harrow between 1984 and 1988.[1] He graduated in international relations from the University of Warwick. He spent more than a decade in China, and was a Chinese speaker. He was married to Wang Lulu, a Chinese national from Dalian, and had two children, 11-year-old Olivia and seven-year-old Peter, who both attend the Beijing branch of Dulwich College. They lived in a private, tree-lined compound occupied by expensive villas on the outskirts of Beijing . Mr Heywood drove an S-type Jaguar, with a Union Jack bumper sticker. Heywood was not a heavy drinker, but was a chain smoker. His father, Peter, died of a heart attack after drinks over dinner at his London home in 2004 at age 63, according to family members.

“Heywood served as an intermediary linking western companies to powerful figures in the Chinese political structure. He ran a company named Heywood Boddington Associates, registered at his mother’s house in London. It claims to be “a multi-discipline consultancy focusing on serving the interests of UK businesses in the People’s Republic of China".

“Heywood developed a business relationship with Gu Kailai, a lawyer, businesswoman, and the wife of Bo Xilai. Heywood appears to have played the role of a Bai Shoutao or white glove for the Bo family, doing business on their behalf, since, as a prominent party family, they could not sully their hands with financial dealings. Businessmen have complained that any foreign company wishing to work in Chongqing had to appoint Gu Kailai's law firm to act on its behalf, failing which it could not get required permissions and licenses. The law firm, Kailai Law (now Beijing Ang-dao Law), is said to have charged exorbitant fees.

“Heywood had clients including Beijing Aston Martin dealerships and Rolls-Royce. He was hired occasionally by Hakluyt & Company, a consultancy firm co-founded by a former officer in Britain's MI6 intelligence service. Rumours that Heywood might have been employed as an agent by British intelligence have been denied by Foreign Secretary William Hague (an unusual move, as the British government typically refuses to comment on the identity of its agents).

Gu Kailai Suspected of Murder

In mid April 2012, around the time that Bo was suspended from his party posts in the Politburo, his wife, Gu Kailai, was accused of ordering Heywood’s murder. Gu and an employee from the family home, Zhang Xiaojun, were taken into custody on suspicion of his murder. Gu Kailai was detained because she was "highly suspected" of killing Heywood following a row over an unspecified financial conflict, according to official reports.

“Xinhua reported: “Police set up a team to reinvestigate the case of the British national Neil Heywood who was found dead in Chongqing," the news agency said. Xinhua said evidence indicated Heywood's death was a homicide and Gu Kailai and Zhang Xiaojun, an assistant in Bo's household, were "highly suspected." It cited a dispute over unspecified "economic interests" between Gu and Heywood that "constantly intensified". Gu and Zhang had been "handed over to the judicial authorities", it said - meaning they have been detained.

“This is so dramatic, so extraordinary," said Li Zhuang, a Beijing lawyer who was once jailed in Chongqing for challenging Bo's campaign against organised crime. "If, and I stress if, there are real proven links to Heywood's death, then we can imagine that Gu and Bo Xilai will find out that, as Chinese television has said about this, nobody is above the law." "In Chongqing, everybody is up and discussing this and waiting for more news," Zhang told Reuters late in the evening. "The ordinary residents are staggered. Many didn't think the rumours could be true. They want to know what the hell has been going on." Any criminal investigation of Bo would only begin after the party's disciplinary agency investigated him and decided whether to turn his case over to police and prosecutors, said Li.

Heywood Killed after Threat to Expose Bo Xilai’s Wife?

In mid April 2012, Reuters reported: “Heywood 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. Bo's wife, Gu Kailai, asked Heywood in late 2011 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 due to 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. [Source: Chris Buckley, Reuters, April 16, 2012]

“Police suspect Heywood took a poisoned drink, according to one of the sources, and died on November 15. Both sources said Gu was not present at the scene. The sources said Heywood had stayed at the Nanshan Lijing Holiday Hotel, a secluded complex of rooms and villas in green hills overlooking Chongqing that Gu Kailai had visited in the past. Staff there said they had no knowledge of the death of a British man at the hotel, which is also marketed as the Lucky Holiday Hotel, in November.

“Heywood had spent his last week in Chongqing in Nan'an district, an area politically loyal to Bo, and stayed at two hotels: the Nanshan Lijing Holiday Hotel and the Sheraton hotel. Staff at each hotel said they knew nothing of a British man dying there. A guard was barring access to an apparently empty row of villas within the grounds of the Nanshan Lijing Holiday Hotel, saying a meeting was going on.

“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. "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. The Guardian reported, “Friends of Heywood have questioned his involvement in such activities and point out that he was not a wealthy man — as one might have expected if he was handling billions of dollars.

Gu Kailai and the Heywood Murder

Gillian Wong of Associated Press wrote: “In November 2011, Gu lured Heywood to a secluded hilltop retreat in Chongqing where she got him drunk and then, with an aide's help, poured cyanide into his mouth. Then she turned to Wang, who sent police officers to remove evidence, including hotel surveillance videos. "It's all gone up in smoke, flown on a crane to paradise," the police chief told Gu after Heywood was declared dead by excessive drinking and his body was cremated. Unknown to Gu, Wang had recorded a phone conversation in which she'd confessed to the crime. He also had secretly saved samples from Heywood's heart and other evidence. Left out of the official account was a surprising twist that was exposed in court testimony: The police chief had helped Gu plot the murder from the start, but backed away from its execution." [Source: Gillian Wong, Associated Press, August 20, 2013]

Andrew Jacobs wrote in the New York Times: “According to the official Xinhua news agency, the murder plot was hatched after Mr. Heywood threatened Ms. Gu’s son, Bo Guagua, and demanded the return of $22 million he claimed was owed to him after a real estate venture failed. After Mr. Heywood’s threats were revealed, reportedly in an e-mail he sent to the family, Ms. Gu devised a scheme to kill him with animal poison procured from a public market, according to an account of the trial issued by Xinhua. In November, Mr. Heywood, 41, was lured to a hotel room in Chongqing, where Ms. Gu plied him with whiskey and tea. [Source: Andrew Jabobs, New York Times, August 20, 2012]

When he became drunk and began to vomit, Mr. Zhang, the family employee, helped him into bed, prosecutors said. Ms. Gu then took the deadly concoction that Mr. Zhang had been carrying and dripped it into Mr. Heywood’s mouth after he asked for water. She then scattered pills around the room to make it appear that Mr. Heywood had died of a drug overdose. Two days later, workers at the Lucky Holiday Hotel discovered Mr. Heywood’s body; the police quickly ruled his death the result of excessive drinking and cremated his remains.

Neil Heywood and His Links to Bo Xilai’s and Gu Kailai’s Inner Circle

Gu Kailai has long been known for her own zealous ambition. In April 2012, The Guardian reported: “Heywood privately confessed to friends that Gu Kailai was "mentally unstable" and behaved like an unforgiving "empress". In conversations in the three years before his death, Heywood admitted that Gu's behaviour had grown increasingly erratic. He told one friend that Gu was comporting herself "like an old-fashioned Chinese aristocrat or empress". The friend was unconvinced by claims that the businessman and Gu were having an affair, and that this may have led to his murder. "I would be very surprised. He wasn't at all complimentary about her. He said she was mentally unstable and a force to be reckoned with. It didn't sound to me like the words of a man who was enamoured," the source told the Guardian. The friend met regularly with Heywood between 2008-2011, after bumping into him at a networking event. Typically she would see him every six weeks in Beijing, she said, bringing him Jaffa cakes from Britain at his request. [Source: Tania Branigan, The Guardian, April 18, 2012]

“The friend recounted: "Neil told me that Gu had demanded that the inner circle divorce their wives and pledge loyalty to her alone. She thought that someone in her inner circle was betraying her. He said for Gu loyalty to the family was more important than anything else. He told me she was behaving like an old-fashioned Chinese aristocrat or empress." The friend remarked: "I assumed Neil was involved in funnelling finances for them overseas. The family had far more money at their disposal than a Communist party salary.”

Reuters reported: ‘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. Heywood's falling-out with Gu followed a period in which she had grown distant from her ambitious, perpetually busy husband and she had turned to Heywood as a soulmate, sources said. "Bo and Gu Kailai had not been a proper husband and wife for years ... Gu Kailai and Heywood had a deep personal relationship and she took the break between them deeply to heart," said Wang Kang, a well-connected Chongqing businessman who has learned some details of the case from Chinese officials. "Her mentality was 'you betrayed me, and so I'll get my revenge'," Wang said. [Source: Chris Buckley, Reuters, April 16, 2012]

“Heywood got to know the powerful family when Bo Xilai was mayor of Dalian in the 1990s. Heywood helped with getting the couple's son, Bo Guagua, into an exclusive British school, Harrow, said one of the sources with police contacts. The sources said there had been no sign of any dispute between Gu and Heywood until October and November when the argument over funds began. The lack of a paper trail made it difficult for police to determine how much money was involved, they added. Heywood’s friend told The Guardian that Heywood “painted a frank and dysfunctional portrait of Gu Kailai and her ambitious husband. They presided over a small, exclusive group called the "inner circle". This group was mainly Chinese, but it included two foreigners — Heywood, an old Harrovian, and a French architect [Patrick Henri Devillers]. [Source: Tania Branigan, The Guardian, April 18, 2012]

Heywood came to know Bo Xilai in the 1990s when he was mayor of the north-eastern city of Dalian. But by 2008 he had "fallen out" with the powerful couple, the friend said, and relations had dramatically cooled. Heywood never explained the reasons. Despite this semi-estrangement Heywood travelled to Chongqing a week before his death. She added that Heywood had always been "very cagey" about what his exact role was with the Bos. But, according to Mr. Heywood’s friends, he was instrumental in helping the boy gain admission to Harrow, which charges annual tuition equivalent to $55,000.

“Of Heywood, the source told The Guardian: "He was very bonhomous. Very English. He had an English prep school air about him." The source said Heywood "looked older than he was" — he was 41 when he died — and confirmed what others have suggested: that there was a Walter Mitty aspect to his personality. The friend said he was fascinated by James Bond films, and drove a Jaguar around downtown Beijing with the number plate "007" — unlikely behaviour if he were a spy, as some have suggested. He also appeared to know every word of The Rock, she added, the Hollywood action thriller starring Sean Connery as an ex-MI6 agent.

“The friend said that when she last saw Heywood the summer before his death, adding that he did not seem unduly worried. Rather, like other long-term British expatriates, Heywood seem to believe that he led a "charmed life" and that he was immune from the legal problems and other difficulties that might affect the locals. "He didn't seem to be too worried about the situation. He talked about falling out with the Bos. He mentioned coming back to the UK in the summer [2012] but only because his daughter needed to start secondary school." Heywood often talked about his Chinese wife Lulu and their two children. "He was very fond of her," the source said. ‘she also backed up the claim that death from excessive drinking was implausible. "He wasn't teetotal but he drank sparingly. He usually drank diet coke," the friend said. "He would have one or two glasses of wine at most." The friend added that she had some sympathy with British diplomats in China who have been criticised for only raising the alarm two months after his death: "Neil's father died of a heart attack in his 60s, and the family were telling for some time he died of a heart attack.”

Gu Kailai Charged with Murder and the Evidence Against Her

In late July 2012, Gu Kailai was officially charged with the intentional homicide of Heywood. Xinhua news agency published a brief dispatch announcing that Ms. Gu and an aide employed by the family had been formally charged in the poisoning death of Neil Heywood. The article did not mention Mr. Bo’s full name, suggesting prosecutors have decided not to implicate him in the crime. Andrew Jacobs wrote in the New York Times: “While repeating earlier accusations that tied the murder to “a conflict over economic interests,” the announcement added two details: it confirmed that Mr. Heywood had been poisoned and it said that Ms. Gu committed the crime to protect her son, Bo Guagua. It was unclear what Bo Guagua might have done to need protection from Mr. Heywood, but the announcement omitted her son’s full name, suggesting that prosecutors have decided not to implicate him in the crime. [Source: Andrew Jacobs, New York Times, July 26, 2012]

Gu and Zhang faced trial in Hefei, a city in eastern China, far from Chongqing. Edward Wong wrote in the New York Times: “There have been various stories about the evidence that Mr. Wang had gathered linking Ms. Gu to the death of Mr.Heywood...Some police officers have told friends in Chongqing that Ms. Gu was recorded on a security camera leaving the villa the night of Mr. Heywood’s death, said a person with police contacts in Chongqing. According to Reuters: “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. Xinhua said that the economic dispute between Gu and Heywood involved her son. [Source: Michael Martina and Chris Buckley, Reuters, July 26, 2012; [Source: Edward Wong, New York Times, June 7, 2012]

Charges Against Gu Kailai Charge Suggests Old Story

On Gu being charged in Heywood’s murder, Andrew Jacobs wrote in the New York Times; “The Chinese government, almost certainly intentionally, has placed the larger-than-life Ms. Gu into a familiar Chinese framework: the conniving, bloodthirsty vixen whose hunger for money derailed her husband’s promising career. Although no one has presented any compelling evidence to rebut the official narrative that Ms. Gu, 53, played a role in the death of the businessman, many wonder if party leaders are using her case to deflect public disgust over the kind of corruption and abuse of power that critics say was embodied by her husband. Mr. Bo. [Source: Andrew Jacobs, New York Times, July 26, 2012]

“Throughout Chinese history, whenever there’s a political struggle, whenever someone has to fall, they blame the wife,” said Hung Huang, the publisher of a fashion magazine whose own mother, Mao Zedong’s former English tutor, spent two years under house arrest after she was accused of collaborating with the Gang of Four.

“Chinese history is sprinkled with tales of cunning women whose outsize ambitions led them “ and sometimes the men in their lives “ to ruination. Jiang Qing, Mao’s wife, took much of the blame for the calamitous decade of the Cultural Revolution, a point driven home in a televised show trial that electrified the nation. And Chinese schoolchildren can readily recite the crimes of Empress Dowager Cixi, who is portrayed as a rapacious, homicidal leader whose machinations helped topple the Qing dynasty.

“Leaving Bo out of the announcement of the charges suggests to some observers that he is not likely to be implicated in the most damning element of the scandal, as prosecutors are viewed as unlikely to hold separate trials related to the same death. Susan L. Shirk, an expert on Chinese politics, said party officials might be reluctant to accuse Mr. Bo of participating in a cover-up of the murder, given his popularity among some ordinary Chinese and with an influential faction of the leadership. “They have to handle this in a way that protects Bo Xilai’s reputation,” said Ms. Shirk, a former State Department official who teaches at the University of California, San Diego. “They don’t want all the dirty laundry of elite politics to be aired because they really don’t know the potential threat posed by Bo’s followers.”

“In fact, the bulk of the guilt seems to be falling on Ms. Gu’s shoulders. The charges referred to her as “Bogu Kailai,” a name that combines her name with that of her husband. Some analysts have suggested that referring to her by a compound name, following an outdated tradition sometimes still used by Chinese who live outside mainland China, hints that she has or had foreign residency, violating the rules governing senior leaders and their families. She also has other strikes against her. News media reports in China and elsewhere often referred to her as a gatekeeper to her husband, reaping substantial financial benefits. She had lived abroad and broke an unwritten rule by inviting foreigners into the family’s inner circle.

Heywood Suspected of Being a Spy

China’s external intelligence agency, the Ministry of State Security, suspected Heywood of being a spy before his murder last year according to people with close ties to Chinese state security. The Wall Street Journal reported that Mr. Heywood had regular meetings with an operative of the British intelligence agency MI6. The newspaper said he was an unpaid informant, providing information on the Bo family’s private affairs. [Source: Jonathan Ansfield and Ian Johnson, New York Times, November 6, 2012]

Jonathan Ansfield and Ian Johnson, New York Times, November 6, 2012] The British government declined to comment on The Journal’s report, with a spokesman referring reporters to a statement made earlier this year that Mr. Heywood was not a government employee “in any capacity.” The Ministry of State Security had suspected Mr. Heywood of being a British spy, the people close to the ministry said, although they did not confirm that he had worked informally for MI6.

A scholar with high-level ties to Mr. Bo and the ministry said Mr. Bo had known of the ministry’s official suspicions before Mr. Heywood’s death, as had other leaders. Separately, a political analyst with high-level party ties said Mr. Heywood was on the ministry’s watch list, possibly for years, as a result of his relationship with the Bo family. “When a minister-level cadre has such relations with a foreigner, they’ll definitely be watched,” the analyst said.

The suspicions may help explain the growing paranoia in the entourage of Mr. Bo’s wife. Mr. Heywood told friends that someone in Mr. Bo’s inner circle had grown suspicious of his ties with Mr. Bo, and Ms. Gu insisted that her friends swear loyalty to her. It is unclear, however, whether Ms. Gu suspected Mr. Heywood of spying on her family. A lawyer for Ms. Gu’s family said it was never mentioned to him that she thought Mr. Heywood was a spy.

Adding to questions about the importance of espionage in the case, friends said Mr. Heywood had become estranged from the powerful family in the year before his death in November 2011. He also openly cultivated the image of an inside operator, driving around Beijing in a sports car with “007" license plates. Mr. Heywood had done work for the private intelligence firm Hakluyt, founded by former officials with MI6, helping prepare due-diligence reports on Chinese companies for investors. That association had given rise to longstanding speculation that he was a spy.

Trial of Gu Kailai

In August 2012 in a trial that lasted just just seven hours, Gu Kailai chose not to contest the charge of murdering British businessman Neil Heywood. "The accused Bogu (Gu) Kailai and Zhang Xiaojun did not raise objections to the accusations of intentional homicide," an official, Tang Yigan, said after the hearing, referring also to Gu's co-accused, an aide to the family. The trial was described by some as the most sensational trial since the conviction of the Gang of Four in the 1970s. Gillian Wong of AP wrote: The morning of the trial began with a steady downpour. Security was tight around the courthouse, with roads around it blocked to car travel. Reporters were asked to present their IDs before being allowed to get close to the building, but police lines were pulled across the main entrance and guarded by officers. Other entrances were similarly guarded. Dozens of plainclothes security officers loitered around the streets. Several special police vans were parked around the building. [Source: Gillian Wong, AP, August 8, 2012]

“John Ruwitch of Reuters wrote: ‘state television showed Gu, wearing a dark pant suit and a white shirt, being led into the courtroom and being seated in the dock. She appeared to have put on weight since she was detained earlier this year. The court official quoted prosecutors as saying Gu and Zhang had killed Heywood with a poisoned drink. As a result of the dispute with Heywood, Gu had become convinced Heywood was a threat to her son, Bo Guagua, the official said without elaborating. [Source: John Ruwitch, Reuters, August 9, 2012] “Gu, herself a career lawyer, was defended by a state-appointed lawyer with meager experience in criminal cases. The two lawyers, Jiang Min and Zhou Yuhao, could not be reached for comment but a search of public information showed the more senior attorney, Jiang is a specialist in financial cases and that neither has any obvious connection to the Bo family. The state decided who was to represent Gu, denying her the use of a family lawyer — a move that prompted Gu's 90-year-old mother, Fan Chengxiu, to complain to the Justice Ministry, according to a source close to the family. Gu’s trial was declared “public,” although foreign reporters were blocked from attending. Britain's Foreign Office said two British diplomats had attended the trial "to observe the proceedings and fulfill consular responsibilities to the Heywood family", a spokesman said. They were barred from recording the proceedings or taking notes.

Gu Kailai Says Heywood Detained her Son

Reports have varied as to the motives behind the Heywood murder. Gu contended that she had been trying to protect her son. Officials in Gu Kailai’s trial said that Heywood detained her son Bo Guagua in a home in Britain and wrote an e-mail threatening to “destroy” Bo if he did not give millions of pounds to Heywood to make up for a failed business venture. Courtroom observers quoted by the Washington Post said prosecutors alleged Heywood had threatened in an email to "destroy" Guagua, and demanded money from him after a botched commercial property deal - a threat duly conveyed to Gu.

Reuters reported: “Gu’s lawyer told the court that Heywood himself had some "responsibility in the matter", the court official said, adding that a Heywood family representative had voiced respect for the court during the hearing. Gu Kailai believed that Neil Heywood had threatened the personal safety of her son Bo and decided to kill him," the official added. [Source: John Ruwitch, Reuters, August 9, 2012]

“Evan Osnos of The New Yorker wrote: “According to an account publicly posted by courtroom observer Zhao Xiangcha, her son “telephoned his mother to report his having been detained and kidnapped. Gu was afraid of her son being kidnapped and killed [or] suffering bodily harm. First, she reported the case to the Chongqing police, and the then police chief, Wang Lijun, took the case. But because the case took place in England, and there was not any solid proof, it was impossible to take coercive measures. This then gave her the motive for getting rid of Heywood in order to protect her son.” She has depicted herself—and was helped in the depiction by prosecutors—as a protective mother driven to a frantic defense. According to Xinhua, she said: “To me, that was more than a threat. It was real action that was taking place. I must fight to my death to stop the craziness of Neil Heywood.” [Source: by Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, August 11, 2012]

“Bo Guagua told Reuters in an email that he could not "comment on any of the details" of alleged transactions with Heywood. "I can disclose there is no such thing as either possessing or transferring 130 million pounds," Guagua said, referring to the value of the soured deal that prosecutors said Heywood and Guagua were involved in. British media have suggested Neil Heywood was involved in money laundering, worked for British intelligence or that he was Gu's lover. In London, Heywood's mother accused the press of spreading lies about her son. "You've all behaved so appallingly," Ann Heywood said outside her home.

Gu Confesses to Killing Heywood

At her trial, according to state media reports, Gu admitted poisoning Heywood after he came to visit her in Chongqing. Gu’s aide, Zhang, had driven Heywood to Chongqing from Beijing and prepared a poison which was to be put later into a drink of water. Later that day, Heywood met Gu at a hotel, he became drunk and vomited and then asked for water. "She poured a poison into his mouth," the official said. Gu admitted pouring potassium cyanide down his throat.

"During those days last November, I suffered a mental breakdown after learning that my son was in jeopardy," Gu said. Gu introduced Heywood "to serve as a proxy to a company and participate in the planning of a land project, which never got started", the official court report said. "Heywood later got into a dispute with Bogu Kailai and her son over payment and other issues, and he threatened her son's personal safety," it said. Bogu is Gu's formal surname. [Source: John Ruwitch and Chris Buckley, Reuters, August 10, 2012]

Court official, Tang Yigan, told reporters in the eastern city of Hefei that the four police - from Bo's former powerbase of southwest Chongqing, the vast municipality where Heywood was killed - had found that Gu was a prime suspect. "By falsifying interview records, concealing evidence and other means, they covered up the fact that she had been at the scene," Tang said, adding that one of the four policemen, Guo Weiguo, was a friend of the Bo family.

Gu and a family aide poisoned Heywood at a Chongqing hotel, using a cyanide compound, the Xinhua report said, adding dramatic detail to the confrontation behind the scandal. Heywood became drunk, and after he asked for a glass of water, Gu "put the bottle of cyanide compound she had prepared into Heywood's mouth" and scattered capsules around his villa room to make it appear as if he had been popping pills.

Chinese Court Account of Gu Kailai Trial

According to a Reuters' translation of the main part of the account of the trial issued by the court in Hefei, provincial capital of Anhui in eastern China, and given to reporters—This morning at 8:30, the first section of this court held a public trial attended by prosecutors, the accused Bogu Kailai [Gu Kalai] and Zhang Xiaojun and their defense attorneys, as well as an attorney engaged by the relatives of the victim, Neil Heywood. More than 140 people were present at the hearing, including some friends and relatives of Bogu Kailai, Zhang Xiaojun and the victim Neil Heywood; British consular officials; journalists; People's Congress delegates, People's Political Consultative Conference members and members of the public." [Source: Reuters, August 9, 2012]

“The Hefei People's Procuratorate charged that the accused Bogu Kailai and her son Bo became involved in a dispute over economic interests with the victim, Neil Heywood. Bogu Kailai believed that Neil Heywood had threatened the personal safety of her son Bo, and decided to kill him. She then arranged for the co-accused Zhang Xiaojun - an employee of the Chongqing Municipal Party Committee office - to invite and accompany Heywood from Beijing to Chongqing.

“On the evening of November 13, 2011, Bogu Kailai went to Heywood when he was staying in Room 1605 at Building No. 16 of the Nanshan Lijing Holiday Hotel and drank alcoholic drinks and tea with him. After Heywood became intoxicated, vomited and asked for a drink of water, she poured a poison into his mouth that had been prepared beforehand and that she had given to Zhang Xiaojun to bring along, causing Heywood's death.

“The Hefei People's Procuratorate believes that the accused Bogu Kailai and Zhang Xiaojun used brutal means to commit murder, and the facts of the crime are clear and backed by ample evidence. Their actions violated Article 232 of the Criminal Code of the People's Republic of China, and they should be prosecuted for criminal culpability for intentional homicide. This case involved a joint offence, with Bogu Kailai as the principal offender and Zhang Xiaojun as the accessory.

“The accused Bogu Kailai and Zhang Xiaojun did not raise objections to the facts and the charge of intentional homicide. The defense lawyers for the accused Bogu Kailai and Zhang Xiaojun respectively presented their defense. Bogu Kailai's defense believed that the victim bore some responsibility for the causes of the case; that Bogu Kailai's capacity for control was weaker than normal people's at the time of the offence; and that the accused had rendered major contributions by informing on the crimes of others; and he pleaded with the court to take into account general considerations in passing judgment. The defense for Zhang Xiaojun argued that he was an accomplice, and that in passing judgment on Zhang it should give a lighter punishment according to the law. The attorney engaged by the relatives of the victim submitted opinions on dealing with some of the criminal matters, and stated respect for the court's open trial. "During the trial, Bogu Kailai was in good health and emotionally stable.”

Details That Emerged During the Gu Kailai Trial

Andrew Jacobs wrote in the New York Times: “ According to several accounts, prosecutors said that Ms. Gu herself procured the poison, a commercially available product for exterminating animals, and that the dispute with Mr. Heywood centered on his efforts to strong-arm her son into paying approximately £14 million [$22 million] that he said he was owed to him after a joint business venture went bust. At one point, Mr. Heywood briefly detained the son, Bo Guagua, inside his home in England, and then sent a threatening e-mail to Ms. Gu demanding the money, a courtroom witnesses said. The e-mail, which was displayed in the courtroom, threatened to “destroy” him. [Source: Andrew Jacobs, New York Times, August 9 and 20, 2012]

“Prosecutors also said that Wang Lijun, a trusted aide of Mr. Bo’s, met with Ms. Gu a day after the murder and secretly recorded a conversation in which she discussed the crime. The courtroom accounts said that Mr. Wang had taken a blood sample from Mr. Heywood’s heart as potential evidence, although it tested negative for poison. Mr. Wang, fearing for his life, later sought refuge in the United States Consulate in Chengdu, where he reportedly revealed details of the murder to American officials.

“The court official here in Hefei, Tang Yigan, portrayed Ms. Gu as emotionally frail. He quoted her lawyers as saying that Ms. Gu’s “ability to control her own behavior was weaker than a normal person.” But Mr. Tang made a point of describing Ms. Gu as “healthy and emotionally stable” during the trial. The lawyers, he added, said that they hoped for leniency given that she had assisted the authorities with details about other people’s crimes.

“CCTV reported that four police officials in Chongqing had been charged with helping Ms. Gu in a cover-up. By focusing exclusively on the murder, said Cheng Li, an expert on Chinese politics at the Brookings Institution, party leaders were able to avoid revealing details about the financial dealings of Ms. Gu and Mr. Bo. Li Xiaolin, a lawyer who was hired by Mr. Zhang’s family, said there were glaring holes in the prosecution’s case. “I found the evidence presented in court was incomplete...Lots of pieces were missing.”

“The state news media portrayed Gu as a mentally unstable woman addled by antidepressants and ‘sedative hypnotic drugs.” The official accounts of the crime also sought to place some of the blame on the victim, painting him as a craven businessman who at one point “detained” the son at a residence in Britain, although it provided no details.

Suspended Death Sentence for Gu Kailai

Andrew Jacobs wrote in the New York Times: “ A Chinese court handed Gu Kailai, the wife of a disgraced Communist Party leader, a suspended death sentence for killing Heywood. In the Chinese legal system, such a sentence is tantamount to life in prison. Ms. Gu could have been executed soon after the guilty verdict was announced, although most analysts had thought such a punishment unlikely. The sentence was announced with a two-year reprieve, meaning that the threat of execution would be lifted after two years, contingent upon her good behavior. Suspended death sentences in China are often tantamount to life in prison, but good behavior can bring jail time down to 25 years. And the Dui Hua Foundation, a San Francisco group that advocates reform of China’s criminal justice system, noted that the psychological ailments cited by the court could make medical parole possible in less than a decade. [Source: Andrew Jacobs, August 20, 2012]

“In news footage televised by the state broadcaster, China Central Television, Ms. Gu stood in the dock and calmly praised the verdict “The sentence is just and shows immense respect for the law, reality and life,” she said. Ms. Gu’s main accomplice, Zhang Xiaojun, a household employee, was sentenced to nine years in prison for what was said to be his limited role in helping Ms. Gu murder Heywood with a cyanide-based poison. Also, four Chongqing police officials who confessed to helping cover up the murder were sentenced to jail terms of 5 to 11 years.

“Nearly all the courtroom seats were filled by government workers who had been dispatched to the hearing, according to one attendee who said she was from the local public security bureau. Although China’s propaganda officials have restricted news media coverage of the case, the murder of Mr. Heywood and prosecution of Ms. Gu have riveted a nation unaccustomed to seeing members of the political elite so publicly exposed. Some historians have likened Ms. Gu’s downfall to that of Jiang Qing, the wife of Mao Zedong who was accused of counterrevolutionary crimes after his death but whose televised show trial in 1980 was far more accessible to the Chinese people.

“He Zhengsheng, the lawyer for Mr. Heywood’s family, told reporters outside the courthouse that he did not object to the sentence. In a statement, the British Embassy said it welcomed “the fact that the Chinese authorities have investigated the death of Neil Heywood, and tried those they identified as responsible,” adding that it had made clear to Chinese officials that it did not want the death penalty to be applied.

“Although few questioned Ms. Gu’s role in the murder, rights advocates criticized her prosecution as driven more by politics than by exacting legal procedure. Relatives say she was forced to accept government-appointed lawyers, who did not have access to case files before the trial began.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, The Guardian, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2021

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