China embroiled in political scandal after murder charges filed against wife of party leader

The Takeaway

A blockbuster scandal continues to boil in Beijing as the Communist Party attempts to pass the political torch to new leaders.

The death of a British businessman, Neil Heywood, in a Chongqing hotel room was declared a murder yesterday, and the wife of Bo Xilai, one of China’s most powerful men, is the lead suspect. Bo had long been thought to be one of the leaders who would benefit most from the power transition. But on Tuesday, Bo was suspended from the powerful Chinese Politburo, a sign that he may be forced out by political rivals.

Michael Bristow, a correspondent for the BBC, said there was initially no reason to believe the death was suspicious — but that began to change as more information came out.

“The British government asked the Chinese authorities to reopen the case. They did that and now they’ve come out with a startling revelation, that Bo Xilai, this famous politician here in China, his wife is suspected of being involved in the murder of the businessman,” Bristow said.

British authorities have said they want the case investigated properly, but there’s been no movement, publicly to try and have the suspect, Gu Kailai, extradited to the U.K. to stand trial.

At the same time the Communist Party announced the finding with regard to Bo’s wife, the party announced Bo had been stripped of all his senior party positions. He’d previously lost his post as the influential mayor of Chongqing.

“This is to do with the murder investigation,” Bristow said. “The Communist Party says that he broke discipline rules connected with this case. We’re not sure how.”

Bristow said its been a major political storm in China.

In Chinese media reports, attention has been drawn to financial ties that are reported to exist between Bob and Heywood. But Bristow cautioned that because the government controls the media in China, it’s hard to know what’s fact and what’s political point-making.

“In this particular case, it’s unclear exactly how closely Bo Xilai is tied up with this murder investigation. It’s clear that he did have a lot of political enemies. He was hoping to be promoted later this year when the Communist Party has its once-in-a-decade leadership change, so some people are asking how closely is he connected to the murder, or is it being used by his political opponents to really silence a rival.”

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Sign up for The Top of the World, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.