Businessman Neil Heywood, who was murdered in China in a scandal involving one of the Communist Party’s rising stars, Bo Xilai, was an informant to Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, said a newspaper report on Tuesday.
Heywood, whose murder last November triggered the country’s biggest political scandal in two decades, knowingly provided information about the powerful Bo family to MI6 for more than a year, according to an investigation by the Wall Street Journal.
The revelation about the Briton sheds new light on a scandal that has led to the downfall of Bo, the former party secretary of Chongqing, and the imprisonment of his wife, Gu Kailai, who was convicted of murdering Heywood in August.
Gu received a suspended death sentence, and former Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun was sentenced to 15 years in jail for defection and other charges after he entered a US consulate claiming knowledge of the murder.
The case unravelled when Heywood was found dead in his hotel room in Chongqing. Local police said he died of “excessive alcohol consumption”, and Heywood’s body was cremated. Gu was later found guilty of poisoning him with potassium cyanide.
The British government asked China for an investigation into Heywood’s death in March. Reports surfaced that Heywood, who was a part of Bo’s inner circle, feared for his life after falling out with Gu over business dealings.
The Wall Street Journal also reported in March that Heywood consulted for a British strategic-intelligence firm founded by ex-spies. The report led British Foreign Secretary William Hague to issue a statement saying Heywood “was not an employee of the British government in any capacity”. It was a rare step for the official to comment on intelligence matters.
In Tuesday’s article, the investigation found that Heywood met an MI6 officer regularly in China and provided information about Bo’s private affairs. Heywood is characterised as a potentially risky choice as an informant; he even drove a silver Jaguar with “007” in the licence plate.