UK welcomes China probe into Heywood death

LONDON Wed Apr 11, 2012 1:08am IST

Bo Xilai looks on during a meeting at the annual session of China's parliament, the National People's Congress, at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing in this March 6, 2010 file photo. REUTERS/Jason Lee/Files

Bo Xilai looks on during a meeting at the annual session of China's parliament, the National People's Congress, at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing in this March 6, 2010 file photo.

Credit: Reuters/Jason Lee/Files

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LONDON (Reuters) - Britain on Tuesday welcomed a Chinese investigation into the death of a UK businessman in China that the ruling Communist party linked to the wife of former high-flying politician Bo Xilai.

Foreign Secretary William Hague called for the death of Neil Heywood to be investigated "on its own merits, without political considerations".

"I hope they will go about it in that way and I welcome the announcement they will have an investigation," he told the BBC.

Heywood, 41, was found dead in a hotel in Chongqing, southwest China, last November and subsequently cremated.

Britain's embassy in Beijing was originally told that Heywood, who had ties with Bo's family, had died from excessive alcohol consumption.

But late last month Britain said it had asked China to investigate the case further over suggestions there were "suspicious circumstances" surrounding Heywood's death.

On Tuesday, China's official Xinhua news agency said evidence from a reinvestigation of the death indicated that Heywood had been murdered and named Bo's wife Gu Kailai and an assistant in their household as suspects.

In addition, the Communist Party suspended Bo from its top ranks, effectively ending his career, following his dismissal as party chief in Chongqing in March.

"I have taken a personal interest in this and I decided a few weeks ago that we should ask the Chinese authorities to investigate the death of Mr Heywood," Hague told Sky News.

"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 added.

Prime Minister David Cameron's office declined comment.

WARM RELATIONS

Relations between China and Britain's coalition government have been warm, with Cameron seeking to step up trade and investment ties.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao came to London in June last year when both sides signed billions of dollars of business deals and Cameron visited China in late 2010.

There is no sign that the Heywood affair has damaged ties.

The development prompted calls for Britain to send London police officers to assist with the investigation.

"William Hague has to send Scotland Yard detectives to China to work with the Chinese police to get to the bottom of Neil Heywood's murder," said opposition Labour politician Denis MacShane.

"It is an alarming development if Russian-style business-security state killings start to take off in China," MacShane, a former Foreign Office minister, added.

A spokesman for London's Metropolitan Police, which would normally deal with overseas investigations, said they had not been asked to help.

Mike Gapes, another opposition Labour politician who sits on the British Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, said it was welcome "that we are getting far greater transparency in China about these issues".

"The truth of what happened to this British citizen needs to come out and those responsible for his death held to account," he told Reuters.

Heywood had worked in Beijing as a consultant for a number of companies, including Hakluyt, a UK-based private business consultancy founded by former British intelligence officers.

He had been instrumental in Bo's son studying at Harrow, a prominent private school in England that Heywood is also reported to have attended.

A source told Reuters last month that Gu had believed that Heywood had abused or taken Bo family funds to which the Briton might have had access. Relatives of Heywood have told Reuters he had no business dealings with the Bo family.

The relatives said last month they did not suspect foul play in Heywood's death, denying reports he was a spy or that he was cremated against their wishes.

He had known the Bo family from when he lived in China's northeastern port city of Dalian, where Bo was mayor from 1993 to 2000. Heywood was not a heavy drinker but was a chain smoker.

Bo and his wife have not responded publicly to the reports.

(Additional reporting by William Maclean, Stephen Addison and Adrian Croft; Editing by Giles Elgood)

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