A British businessman murdered by the wife of top Chinese politician Bo Xilai had informed on the couple for over a year to his country’s spy agency, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.
Neil Heywood shared details derived from his unusually close access to the powerful couple, the paper said, citing his friends and current and former British officials.
The revelation that Heywood was murdered brought down Bo and revealed rifts among top leaders as they negotiated a once-a-decade power handover set to take place this month.
“He had been knowingly providing information about the Bo family to Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, known as MI6, for more than a year,” the report said.
It said Heywood became close to the family in the 1990s when Bo was mayor of the northeastern city of Dalian. He was found dead in November last year in the southwestern city of Chongqing, which Bo ran at the time.
Heywood drove a silver Jaguar with the licence plate “007”, although people who knew him said he kept a low profile among fellow expatriates, the Journal said.
He operated a consultancy that relied on his connections to advise businesses how to manage Chinese bureaucracy.
After meeting someone in 2009 who later acknowledged being an MI6 officer, Heywood “met that person regularly in China” and provided “information on Mr Bo’s private affairs”, the paper said.
Bo’s wife was given a suspended death sentence in August for poisoning Heywood. Bo was removed from the ruling Communist Party’s top 25-member Politburo and now awaits trial for abuse of power and other charges.
Heywood’s links with the family frayed in the last two years of his life. He had not seen Bo for a year when he apparently sought to obtain money which he thought the family owed him as he prepared to leave China, the report said.
The businessman seemed to have grown stressed, having gained weight and begun smoking more, and was increasingly worried that his email and phone calls were being monitored.
When he flew to Chongqing to meet the Bo family, he feared he was in trouble, a friend who spoke to him that day told the Journal.
However, neither Chinese nor British officials pointed to Heywood’s spy links as a reason for his murder, it said.
His death was initially attributed to alcohol consumption. Bo’s police chief and four subordinates were jailed in September for attempting to cover up the role of Bo’s wife.
A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman declined to comment on the report and the British embassy spokesman in Beijing could not immediately be reached.