Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Bo Xilai First Approved, Then Blocked Heywood Murder Investigation

Reuters reported on Monday that Briton Neil Heywood was poisoned last November after he threatened to expose a plan by Bo's wife, Gu Kailai, to move money abroad.

The scandal is potentially the most divisive the Communist Party has faced since Zhao Ziyang was sacked as Party chief in 1989 for opposing the brutal army crackdown on student-led demonstrations for democracy centered on Tiananmen Square in Beijing that year.

Before his fall, Bo, 62, was widely seen as a contender for a post in China's top leadership committee, which will be decided later this year.

In a tense meeting on or about January 18, Wang confronted Bo with evidence implicating Gu in the death of Heywood, a former friend of the Bo family, said two sources with knowledge of police and government information on the case.

Bo was so angry he ordered Wang out of the office, but after composing himself he told Wang to return and signaled that he would let the inquiry proceed, the sources added.

Two or three days later, Bo backflipped and shunted aside Wang in an apparent bid to quash the inquiry and protect his wife and his career, the sources said.

Wang fled to the U.S. consulate in the nearby city of Chengdu on February 6 in an apparent asylum attempt, which exposed the rift between him and Bo and later brought to light official suspicions that Bo's wife engineered Heywood's murder.

It is not possible to contact Gu, Bo or Wang. Gu and Wang are in custody and Bo has not been seen in public since March, when he was dismissed as boss of Chongqing, in southwest China. He was stripped of his seat on the Politburo last week.
Another story reports:
Over the weekend, Internet postings, widely repeated by some Western news agencies, said that cyanide was the poison. A household orderly — what many would call a “butler” — may have been involved.

The government has remained silent.

The unfolding story of the downfall of Bo Xilai, 62, and his wife has profound implications for the world’s second-largest economy. Before his removal last month as Chongqing’s party secretary, Bo was widely expected to gain a seat later this year on the nation’s Politburo Standing Committee, the epicenter of power in China.

Those plans came to a halt after a series of imbroglios that were given an unusual amount of public exposure, raising speculation that senior officials in the government had used them to smear Bo and make his ouster easier to engineer.

Bo was seen to have alienated some in Beijing by his brash ambition. There were, too, his campaign in Chongqing to celebrate Maoist-era culture and a police crackdown on criminal groups that critics say was used to remove his rivals and seize assets.

Bo’s steep plummet from grace began in February when his former police chief, a man named Wang Lijun, took an unsanctioned trip to the U.S. consulate in Chengdu, possibly seeking asylum. The government has not explained why, exactly, Wang fled Chongqing. Others have sought to fill in the gaps.

“Wang Lijun was handling the (Heywood death) case and during the process he discovered that the death wasn’t caused because he drank too much alcohol … but it was due to poisoning,” Wang Kang, a public commentator and documentary filmmaker who is well connected in Chongqing, told McClatchy.

After Wang Lijun presented Bo with the news that his wife was wrapped up in Heywood’s murder, Bo kicked Wang out of his office and then called him back in, Wang Kang said. Wang Kang and Wang Lijun apparently are not related.

“Bo Xilai said that he himself would teach his wife a lesson,” Wang said.

Pressed in an interview Tuesday about how he’d come across his information, Wang Kang said he’d been in contact with sources, but he wouldn’t say anything more specific. That Wang is able to speak openly and by name about the matter with foreign press without being punished by the government — others declined interviews on Tuesday — suggests that officials approve of his message.

Wang, however, said in a later phone conversation, “Nobody told me either that I am allowed or not allowed to say these things.”

Needless to say, much remains unclear about the story.

For instance, the Lucky Holiday Hotel, which sits on a hill overlooking the city, was publicly named in Western news reports this week as the scene of Heywood’s death. But no security presence hindered a McClatchy reporter’s visit Tuesday to the hotel, which is more widely known as the Nanshan Lijing Holiday Hotel. The lack of security at the scene of so sensitive an event is, in China, unusual.

Asked whether a foreign man showed up dead in a room or villa in November, a clerk behind the front counter, who did not give her name, said she worked there at the time and “We really haven’t heard anything about this.” Was a manager around for further comment? The clerk quickly said that her boss would not be available for an interview.
William Pesek, at Bloomberg, discusses the murder, dismissing the conventional "wisdom" that Bo's downfall was engineered to stop Bo from developing a cult of personality. Instead, he writes:
We’re missing the true story here, though. It’s really more evidence that China’s political system is trapped in the past, while its economy races ahead. This dangerous mismatch is often dismissed by pundits and investors, and yet Bo’s ambitious rise and fall, as well as the opacity surrounding it, embodies much of what’s wrong in the fastest-growing major economy.

China is iPad central, with state-of-the-art factories, modern office towers of mirrored glass, six-lane highways, high- speed rail, expanding WiFi networks and state wealth that’s the envy of Washington and Tokyo. China’s nouveau riche are so vital to Prada SpA, Louis Vuitton and Mercedes-Benz that they have been called the “Middle Blingdom.”

Yet China’s political system dates to the days of Mao and Josef Stalin. As democracy takes root from Egypt to Myanmar, China is still mired in closed-door deliberations, backroom deals and purges. This murky world is bumping up against a burgeoning Internet culture that makes it impossible to contain and control the news.

It turns out that China isn’t as governable as it might seem. Wen makes hopeful comments about moving toward democracy, but China is still in the grip of its history -- both recent and ancient. To avoid repeating mistakes, a nation’s people must know what that record entails. Remember that a picture of Mao still towers over Tiananmen Square, the site of events the Chinese can’t even talk about.

China bulls cite the five-year plans Beijing puts forth. This year’s power shift will bring great expectations that the next one will reform the economy so that it relies less on investment and exports and more on consumption. Laying out a grand scheme doesn’t immediately make its tenets fact -- especially now.

Political risk can’t be ruled out as the focus turns to greed. How could Bo, with his modest government salary and a wife he claims doesn’t work, live so well and afford to send his son to a string of pricey schools in the U.K. and U.S.?

All this light shining on high-level misconduct might pose a threat to the Communist Party’s legitimacy by drawing renewed attention to the yawning gap between the elite and the poor.
Pesek adds:
To continue to thrive, China must stop transferring vast amounts of income from households to the state. That means more power for consumers, and less for China’s ultra-rich. The question is, as China tries to reform, will the nation’s 1 percent fight it? And when we talk about this select group, we’re really referring to the political leadership.
Since today is tax day in the U.S., a can sympathize with the idea that countries should stop transferring vast amounts of income from households to the state (and its cronies--Solyndra, anyone?). However, Bo's downfall is not directly the result of crony communism, but another case of pride (and wealth and power) proceeding the downfall. Whether Bo's case provided a convenient opportunity for political rivals to get rid of Bo, or it simply is too large of a scandal to contain and so he had to be removed from office, we may never know.

The New York Times has this op-ed piece that suggest that the scandal will have larger implications for China:
In the view of some analysts and party insiders, that same scandal has raised the notion of high-level misconduct among China’s elite to a level that some say could have far-reaching and unpleasant implications for stability. It could cast a long shadow over one of the party’s linchpins: the notion that a handful of all-powerful officials and retired elders are better qualified to pick their successors than are ordinary citizens.
And here is an article for the New York Times discussing Mr. Wang's involvement:
On the evening of Feb. 6, a vice mayor of a major Chinese city who had a reputation as a crime fighter turned up at the American Consulate in Chengdu in an agitated state, wearing a disguise and telling a tale of corruption and murder that has ensnared the Obama administration in a scandal it wants nothing to do with.

The official, Wang Lijun, sought asylum, fearing for his life even as Chinese security forces quickly surrounded the building and asked the American diplomats inside to turn him over.

Instead, after a frantic debate that reached the White House, Mr. Wang stayed until he could arrange for an official in the ministry of public safety in Beijing to come 36 hours later and escort him past the security cordon outside to safety — or, more likely, custody. He has not been heard from since, and is now under investigation for divulging internal Chinese affairs to the Americans. If charged with and convicted of treason, he could face a death sentence.

The information Mr. Wang possessed involved Bo Xilai, who was the Communist Party chief in Chongqing until last month and Mr. Wang’s onetime patron before a falling-out led Mr. Wang to seek refuge in the consulate, according to administration officials, Congressional aides, diplomats and others briefed on what had happened.

According to the officials’ version, the American diplomats who oversaw his brief, bizarre stay pre-empted any formal application for asylum because of the difficulties of spiriting him out of the country and questions about his eligibility. Instead, they said, the State Department shielded him from almost certain arrest by police officers loyal to Mr. Bo and ensured he could make his accusations in Beijing.

Those charges brought down Mr. Bo and his wife, Gu Kailai, who is now under investigation in the murder of a British businessman, Neil Heywood, and involved the United States and Britain in the biggest scandal facing China’s leadership in a generation.

“He was not tossed out,” a senior administration official said, referring to Mr. Wang.

Some Republicans in Congress question, however, whether the Obama administration mishandled Mr. Wang’s case and left him to the mercy of the Chinese authorities when he had sought to pass along explosive information that affected a power struggle at the top of the Chinese Communist Party.

Mr. Wang’s arrival at the consulate could not have come at a more sensitive moment for the administration: just a week before China’s likely future leader, Xi Jinping, was scheduled to visit Washington at the invitation of Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. Granting asylum to Mr. Wang could have soured or scuttled Mr. Xi’s trip.

Even now, the episode — which one Congressional official described as “a ‘Bourne Supremacy’ plot” — risks straining relations as the White House hopes to manage China’s rise and enlist its support on issues like the nuclear ambitions of North Korea and Iran and the government crackdown in Syria.

As a result, the American role has been shrouded in silence. Officials at the embassy in Beijing, the State Department and the White House have declined to comment publicly on Mr. Wang’s contacts with American diplomats or the implications of his whistle-blowing on China’s suddenly turbulent internal politics.

Read more here:

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