Neil Heywood was murdered on the orders of a fallen Communist Party chief, according to reports which quoted “respected Mandarin-language websites” saying the 41-year-old died from cyanide poisoning after allegedly having an affair with lawyer Gu Kailai, wife of Bo Xilai, seen until recently as a future leader of China.
Mr Heywood was found dead on 15 November in Chongqing, in central China. Britain asked China to investigate his death and it emerged last week that Mrs Gu was being questioned over “intentional homicide”.
A city official has allegedly confessed that he prepared the poison and handed it to an employee of Mr Bo, who administered it to Mr Heywood on the party chief’s instructions.
Mr Heywood was a friend of the family of Mr Bo, a former rising star in Chinese politics who served as local party chief in Chongqing.
At the time, Chinese officials said the British expat died of “excessive alcohol consumption”.
But friends questioned this, saying the businessman was not a heavy drinker. In February, Mr Bo’s former police chief Wang Lijun sought refuge in the US consulate in China.
It is thought he made a number of claims against the politician and Mrs Gu, including her alleged role in Mr Heywood’s death.
State media reported on Tuesday that Mrs Gu and Zhang Xiaojun, an orderly at Mr Bo’s home, had been arrested.
Meanwhile Mr Bo has been suspended from the Communist Party’s 25-member Politburo amid allegations of “serious discipline violations”.
A Foreign Office (FCO) spokeswoman said yesterday: “We are aware of the latest media reports. As there is an ongoing Chinese police investigation into this case it wouldn’t be appropriate to comment further.”
Other reports this weekend said the Foreign Office was facing an increasing number of questions over delays in its intervention. The Times reported it had emerged that a British diplomat and two Chinese policemen attended Mr Heywood’s cremation in Chongqing shortly after he was killed.
But the British did not raise questions with the Chinese until three months later, despite locally based British businessmen urging the Foreign Office to intervene, the newspaper said.
An FCO spokesman said: “As we became more concerned about this case, including following suggestions from the business community, we took the decision to ask the Chinese authorities to launch an investigation. We acted as soon as we thought concerns about the case justified it.
“We are pleased that the Chinese have now launched that investigation.”
Prime Minister David Cameron said on Wednesday during a Far East tour that he was pleased the Chinese authorities were taking action over the murder.
He said: “We did ask the Chinese to hold an investigation and we are pleased that they are now doing that. It is very important we get to the truth of what happened in this very disturbing case, this very tragic case.”
Mr Heywood had lived in China for ten years and was fluent in Mandarin. He had two children with his Chinese wife.