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China promises 'thorough' investigation into Bo Xilai scandal

By Paul Armstrong, CNN
April 21, 2012 -- Updated 0042 GMT (0842 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Editorial follows British Prime Minister's meeting with visiting Chinese official in London
  • Xinhua: The party has made a resolute decision to thoroughly investigate related events
  • Neil Heywood was found dead in November in the Chinese city of Chongqing
  • His death was initially blamed on alcohol poisoning but foul play is now suspected

Hong Kong (CNN) -- China has promised a thorough investigation into a scandal that has linked a disgraced former Communist Party chief's wife to the mysterious death of a British businessman.

The pledge, published Wednesday in an editorial by the state-run Xinhua news agency, came hours after British Prime Minister David Cameron and Foreign Minister William Hague met visiting Chinese official Li Changchun in London.

Britain used the meeting to demand what Hague described in a statement as "a full investigation that observes due process, is free from political interference, exposes the truth behind this tragic case, and ensures that justice is done."

UK foreign minister welcomes Chinese probe

Forty-one-year-old British businessman, Neil Heywood, was found dead in a hotel room in Chongqing, China's biggest metropolis, last November. His death was initially attributed to alcohol poisoning but foul play is now suspected.

On April 10, Chinese authorities announced that Gu Kailai -- the wife of the region's former Communist Party chief, Bo Xilai -- was being investigated on suspicion of murder, along with a family aide, Zhang Xiaojun.

Bo himself was suspended from the Communist party's Central Committee on the same day the investigation into his wife was announced. He had been removed from his post in Chongqing the previous month on suspicion of "serious disciplinary violations," Xinhua reported. All three have disappeared from public view and have been unreachable for comment. But shortly after the allegations surfaced against Bo and his wife, he denied any wrongdoing, telling reporters that unnamed people were pouring filth on his family.

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Conspiracy theories, claims of political skullduggery and rumors of poisoning have blossomed as the scandal unfolded around Bo's remarkable fall from grace and the businessman's mysterious death.

Rumors fly as Bo plot thickens in China

China, for its part, has struggled to control the rumors, which have circulated on micro - blogging sites among the country's millions of Internet users. It shut down comment sections on leading micro-blogging sites for two days in early April. This is especially embarrassing for the Communist leadership in a year when new members are selected for the all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee.

Wednesday's editorial said "the CPC [Communist Party of China] Central Committee has made a resolute decision to thoroughly investigate related events and release information in a timely manner, a manifestation of its high sense of responsibility to the causes of the Party and the people."

It added the move demonstrates "its determination to safeguard the socialist rule of law, to investigate and handle every discipline violation and never tolerate corruption, in order to ensure the purity of the Party."

The scandal unfolded publicly in February when Wang Lijun, Chongqing's police chief from 2009 to 2011, was reported to be "on leave" for health reasons. It was soon revealed that he had fled to the U.S. consulate in Chengdu in February, six hours' drive away from Chongqing. Media reports surfaced that he was seeking asylum, apparently fearing for his life and allegedly holding incriminating information on his old boss.

After leaving the U.S. consulate, Wang was taken away by state police and has not seen or heard from since. Bo was then fired from his position, his career and ambitions to enter the politburo standing committee -- the nine men who run China -- shattered.

This is where Heywood re-enters the picture. Britain's Foreign Secretary said he was informed about Wang's appearance at the U.S. Consulate the day after the Feburary 6 visit. After being told Wang had made allegations about the nature of the businessman's death, Hague said he immediately instructed British officials to ask the Chinese authorities to investigate. He added that British officials had been aware of rumors within China's British expat community of possible suspicious circumstances in Heywood's death on January 18.

In mid-February, a senior British diplomat met Chinese counterparts, Hague said. "He informed them of our concerns about Mr. Heywood's death and the suspicion that he had been murdered, and conveyed our formal request that the Chinese authorities investigate."

That request was conveyed to Chinese officials twice more, once in February and again in March, Hague said. Announcing the investigation on April 10, the Chinese assured Britain's envoy to Beijing that "proper judicial process" would be followed, he said.

Wednesday's Xinhua editorial described the "Wang Lijun incident" as a "serious political event that has created an adverse influence both at home and abroad," while the death of Heywood was "a serious criminal case involving the kin and aides of a party and state leader."

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