Wheels set in motion to distance Bo from killing
In a move at damage control, Chongqing's government newspaper yesterday appeared to try to distance the disgraced Bo Xilai from the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood, even though Bo's wife is the prime suspect.
The Chongqing government mouthpiece said the case of Heywood's death involved 'the personal acts of Bo-Gu Kailai and others', not mentioning the former party secretary in connection with the case. Heywood was found dead in a Chongqing hotel room on November 14.
The commentary called on cadres to understand and support the party's decision to put Bo under investigation for breaching party discipline.
'Cadres should explain to the masses about the true facts involving Wang Lijun [who fled to the US consulate in Chengdu ] and the case of Neil Heywood,' the commentary said. 'They should explain clearly that the murder case of Neil Heywood was made by the personal acts of Bo-Gu Kailai and others.'
The piece called on cadres to ensure that the public wasn't disturbed by rumours and that they support the party's authority.
There has been speculation since Tuesday, when Bo's membership of the party's Politburo was suspended for 'serious discipline violations', that Bo ordered the rumoured poisoning of Heywood. State media reported that Gu and Heywood had a business dispute.
Analysts said the commentary was aimed at keeping Bo out of the investigation into Heywood's death, since having even a former Politburo member involved in the murder of a foreigner would jeopardise the Communist Party's image.
'It would be very shocking if a Politburo member were directly involved in this case,' said China watcher Johnny Lau Yui-siu. 'It would convey a message that high-flyers in China can easily discard foreigners' lives when they get in disputes, and this would be detrimental to the party's image.'
Lau said the unconfirmed rumours spreading online that Gu had mental problems may have been a tactic to create the impression her actions were the result of 'poor mental health, and the case has nothing to do with the Chinese government'.
Zhang Lifan , a China watcher formerly with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said, 'The commentary was made to contain fears that, if Bo was involved in murder, other Politburo members may be involved in similar crimes.'
But he pointed out that the investigations into Gu and Bo were continuing and that it was possible the authorities might still find evidence linking Bo to the case.
'The commentary exerts political interference on the investigation,' he said. 'It is not convincing [for the commentary] to say that Bo is totally unrelated to what his wife has done.'
Some websites and media, citing unnamed sources, said Bo tried to protect his wife by impeding the investigation. Such accusations of not following proper legal channels were also made when Bo was clamping down on triads in the municipality.
But analysts and sources said Bo had annoyed the central leadership by sacking Wang, his former police chief, in February without consulting the Ministry of Public Security.
The ties between Bo and Wang reportedly soured after Wang told Bo about the investigation of Gu in connection with Heywood's death.
'Bypassing the Ministry of Public Security was in breach of proper political procedure,' Zhang said.
Unconfirmed reports said Heywood had left documents detailing the overseas investments of Bo's family with a lawyer in Britain, which raised concerns about whether Bo had transferred his assets overseas.
Bo and Gu had also reportedly accumulated large amounts of money and Bo had received 1 billion yuan (HK$1.23 billion) in bribes over the past two years through Gu.
Other unconfirmed allegations against Bo include his bugging the phones of state leaders and even planning a coup with Zhou Yongkang a Politburo Standing Committee member.
Analysts said that such a coup was unlikely, and some still expect Bo to be charged with economic crimes.
'Charges on economic crimes and corruption against Bo are likely,' Lau said.
'But the real reason behind his ousting is that Bo tried to promote his Chongqing model of development to other cities, which posed a challenge to central authorities.'
Meanwhile, Zhou made his first public appearance since Bo was removed from the politburo, at a meeting with member countries of the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation, in Beijing on Thursday.
The Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy reported yesterday that the deputy head of Chongqing's public security bureau, Guo Weiguo, had been absent from work after allegedly destroying evidence related to Heywood's death.