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Chinese Politician’s Wife Charged for Murder of British Businessman

July 27, 2012 at 12:00 AM EST
Gu Kulai, a lawyer, businesswoman and wife of a fallen Chinese politico, has been officially charged for murdering Neil Heywood last November. Investigation reports released this week state that conflicts over economic interests were the motive for the crime. Margaret Warner reports.
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MARGARET WARNER: And to China, where a high-stakes crime and politics story continues to unfold.

The wife of an ousted Communist Party official has been charged with homicide.

The news came in Thursday evening’s broadcast from state-run CCTV. Gu Kailai, seen here with her charismatic then-popular politician husband Bo Xilai, is to be tried for the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood. Authorities charge Gu and a family aide killed Heywood at this hotel in Chongqing last November.

ZHANG YU, CCTV (through translator): According to Xinhua, the state news agency’s release, the investigation results show that Gu Kailai and her son had conflicts with British citizen Neil Heywood over economic interests. Gu Kailai poisoned Neil Heywood to death in the consideration that Heywood posed a threat to her son’s security.

MARGARET WARNER: At the time, Bo was the populist party boss of Chongqing, angling for a more powerful post in the party hierarchy, his wife a successful lawyer and businesswoman. Their son, a reputed party boy, was at Harvard’s Kennedy School. He had earlier studied in England with Heywood’s help.

In a statement yesterday, the British Foreign Office said, “We are dedicated to seeking justice for Heywood and his family, and we will be following developments closely.”

The indictment was the latest twist in a scandal that’s rocked China’s secretive Communist Party leadership, exposing its rifts and infighting. It began in February when this man, Wang Lijun, the former Chongqing police chief, fled to the U.S. Consulate in nearby Chengdu and implicated Gu Kailai in Heywood’s death.

In April, Bo was stripped of all his party posts, including his seat on the ruling Politburo. He’s now under investigation by the party, reportedly for corruption and domestic spying, among other things. His wife, Gu, will stand trial in the eastern city of Hefei, hundreds of miles from Chongqing, where Bo remains popular. Conviction could mean the death penalty.

Authorities are expected to proceed quickly to trial, possibly within 10 days. That would dispose of the matter well before the Communist Party Congress convenes this fall to name new leadership for the nation.