PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - The French architect linked to China’s biggest political scandal in two decades and detained in Cambodia will not be extradited to any country, a minister said, adding another twist to a high-profile case already shrouded in mystery.
Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong gave no details on what grounds China had requested the arrest of Patrick Henri Devillers, whose whereabouts is unknown, but said he would remain in custody pending further investigation.
Devillers, 52, has lived in Cambodia for at least five years, according to friends. He had close business ties with the family of deposed Chinese politician Bo Xilai, but China’s reason for seeking his arrest has not been made public.
“The Royal Government of Cambodia has already made decision to keep this French national in Cambodia, the decision was already made. Neither sending to France or China,” Hor Namhong told reporters.
Asked why Devillers was detained, he said: “We don’t know the reason, we are waiting for further investigation.”
A spokeswoman for the French embassy in Phnom Penh declined to say whether France was seeking his extradition, or give any details on the status of Devillers.
Cambodia has kept an unusually tight lid on all information about his detention in a case that has highlighted the tight diplomatic relationship with China.
China is Cambodia’s biggest political and economic ally and Beijing has boosted its influence in the impoverished country in recent years, pumping in hundreds of millions of dollars of aid, loans and investment.
Devillers is known to have been close to Bo’s glamorous wife, Gu Kailai, who has been named as a suspect in last November’s murder of British businessman Neil Heywood. The police case against Gu has not been made public.
Last week, the head of the discipline apparatus of China’s Communist Party, He Guoqiang, visited Cambodia for three days. His position makes him one of the senior officials overseeing Bo’s case.
Apart from the foreign minister, Cambodian officials, police and a government spokesman have refused comment or provided no details on Devillers since his arrest was confirmed on Tuesday. Several have referred journalists to other ministries and agencies, which have each denied responsibility for the case.
Cambodia has an extradition treaty with China and police said on Wednesday that arrangement permitted the authorities to detain the Frenchman for up to 60 days while China gathered evidence to support its request for him to be handed over.
The status of the Frenchman is shrouded in mystery. The French embassy and several friends of Devillers have given no comment in the past two days and Cambodian authorities have not said where Devillers was being held.
Police had initially said he was being kept at an immigration detention facility, but officials there told Reuters no foreigners were being held. Reuters reporters also visited an Interior Ministry detention facility, where officials also denied holding him.
The events leading up to his arrest are also unclear. A friend of Devillers, Pierre Yves Clais, told Reuters on Wednesday that he was told by a friend that the Frenchman had gone for lunch on June 13 with two Chinese-speaking Cambodians, which he described as a “set-up”.
However, Clais on Friday denied making the comment and said it was a misunderstanding.
Two security guards working close to Devillers in Phnom Penh witnessed his arrest, which they said took place about two weeks ago. A police van and a private car carrying two European men pulled up outside his house before taking him away.
“I saw five policemen arrest him. He was cooperative, but he looked very sad,” Rith Makara, a security guard at the furniture store opposite the Frenchman’s home, said on Thursday.
He and a next-door neighbor said Devillers lived alone and had not been seen since.
Sources familiar with Devillers when he lived in China last month said he entered Bo’s inner circle while living in Dalian in the 1990s and the Frenchman received help from then-mayor Bo in chasing up an unpaid debt for architectural work.
Devillers and Gu gave the same residential address when they set up a British company in 2000 in the resort town of Bournemouth and an investment firm registered by Devillers in 2006 in Luxembourg listed the Beijing address of the Ang Dao Law Firm - a firm affiliated with Gu.
Editing by Nick Macfie