Chinese politician Bo Xilai, once a rising star, has been stripped of his elite Communist Party post while his wife is being investigated for the murder of a British national, state media said.
The shock announcements — published Tuesday by the officialXinhua news agency – shed some light on a mysterious political scandal involving Bo and a reported attempt by his former right-hand man to defect to the United States.
Analysts say the rare, public scandal has exposed deep rifts within the ruling party ahead of a key, once-in-a-decade leadership transition due to take place later this year.
Xinhua first issued a short dispatch late Tuesday announcing Bo had been suspended from the party’s powerful 25-member Politburo and from the wider Central Committee, which consists of more than 300 top officials.
The report said “Comrade Bo Xilai” was suspected of being involved in “serious discipline violations”, which in China usually refers to corruption, but gave no details.
Bo was one of China’s most high-profile politicians and a rising star in the party until he was sacked last month as party chief of the southwestern metropolis of Chongqing.
The 62-year-old’s troubles started in February when Wang Lijun, his former police chief, fled to a US consulate and reportedly asked for asylum.
The scandal remained shrouded in mystery until news emerged late last month that London had asked China to reinvestigate the death of a British national in Chongqing in November amid rumours it might be linked to Bo’s family.
On Tuesday, in a second brief dispatch, Xinhua said police had reopened a probe into the death of Neil Heywood after finding evidence Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, may have been involved in his murder.
Gu has been “transferred to judicial authorities for the suspected crime of intentional homicide” of Heywood, the report said, adding Wang made allegations about the death of the British businessman when he visited the US consulate.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague welcomed the news, saying he had taken a “personal interest” in the case.
“The Chinese are doing as we asked them to do and we now look forward to seeing those investigations take place, and in due course hearing the outcome of those investigations,” he told Sky News television.
Xinhua said that police had “paid high attention to the case, and set up the team to reinvestigate the case.”
According to investigation results, Bogu Kailai (Gu Kailai), wife of Comrade Bo Xilai, and their son fell out with Heywood over business interests.
“According to reinvestigation results, the existing evidence indicated that Heywood died of homicide, of which Bogu Kailai and Zhang Xiaojun, an orderly at Bo’s home, are highly suspected.”
Xinhua also published a comment article, saying that the People’s Daily newspaper — the mouthpiece of the Communist Party – would call Wednesday for “firm support” for the suspension of Bo and probe of his wife.
The decisions show “the party’s determination to keep its purity, and the clear stand of the party and government to safeguard party discipline and the laws of the state,” the article said.
“There is no privileged citizen before the law. The party does not tolerate any special member who is above the law,” it added.
Bo’s suspension effectively ends the career of the charismatic former commerce minister who had previously been tipped to become a member of the party’s Standing Committee — the apex of political power in China — later this year.