China: Party suspends Bo Xilai as his wife is accused of murder

CHINA’S Communist Party has formally named the wife of shamed Bo Xilai as a suspect in the murder of a British businessman and stripped the former high-flier of his influential positions in the party hierarchy.

Announcements carried by state media yesterday said Mr Bo had been suspended from the politburo and central committee on suspicion of involvement in “serious discipline violations”.

His wife, Gu Kailai, is being investigated for intentional homicide of a British citizen, Neil Heywood, who died in November in Chongqing, the Xinhua news agency said. Ms Gu and a servant at Mr Bo’s home have been turned over to authorities.

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Mr Bo was party chief in Chongqing until he was dismissed in March.

The decision to banish Mr Bo from the central committee and politburo effectively ends the career of China’s brashest and most controversial politician, who was widely seen as pressing for a top post in China’s next leadership, to be settled later this year.

“Comrade Bo Xilai is suspected of being involved in serious disciplinary violations,” said Xinhua, citing a decision by the central party leadership to suspend Mr Bo from its top ranks.

“Police set up a team to reinvestigate the case of the British national Neil Heywood who was found dead in Chongqing.

“According to the reinvestigation results, the existing evidence indicates Heywood died of homicide, of which Gu Kailai and Zhang Xiaojun, an assistant in Bo’s household, are highly suspected,” said the news agency, citing a dispute over unspecified “economic interests” between Ms Gu and Mr Heywood.

The central committee has 200 full members that meets about once a year. The politburo is a more powerful body comprising about two dozen central committee members.

The announcements are the latest turn in the growing scandal over Mr Bo and his family that erupted after his vice-mayor, Wang Lijun, fled into a US consulate for 24 hours in February, alleging that Ms Gu was involved in Mr Heywood’s death.

“This is so dramatic, so extraordinary,” said Li Zhuang, a Beijing lawyer once jailed in Chongqing for challenging Mr Bo’s campaign against organised crime. “If there are real proven links to Heywood’s death, then we can imagine that Gu and Bo Xilai will find out that, as Chinese television has said about this, nobody is above the law.”

Any criminal investigation of Mr Bo would usually only begin after the party’s all-powerful disciplinary agency investigated him and decided whether to turn his case over to police and prosecutors, said Mr Li.

“This means that Bo’s political career is effectively over,” Chen Ziming, an independent political scholar in Beijing, said before the announcement, citing rumours of Mr Bo’s suspension.

The decision does not mean Mr Bo has been expelled from the Communist Party.

Unlike past removals of defiant leaders over corruption charges, Mr Bo’s downfall has been tinged by ideological tension and sparked opposition from leftist sympathisers, who insist he is the victim of a plot.

Mr Bo promoted a Mao Zedong-inspired “red” culture in Chongqing and a harsh crackdown on organised crime, prompting fears among some people of a return to methods seen during the chaotic Cultural Revolution in the 1960s.