Thursday, 12 April 2012

Betrayal, murder and graft

When the crime-fighting exploits of Mr Wang Lijun inspired a TV series in China more than a decade back, few could have predicted that the real-life adventures of the protagonist would be so much more exciting.


Guanyu 道 said...

Betrayal, murder and graft

By Peh Shing Huei
12 April 2012

When the crime-fighting exploits of Mr Wang Lijun inspired a TV series in China more than a decade back, few could have predicted that the real-life adventures of the protagonist would be so much more exciting.

Intrigue, murder, corruption, all wrapped within the biggest political purge in years. No script could have been better crafted.

Fact in the case of the bespectacled ethnic Mongol - whose birth name was Unen Baatar - has proven to be stranger than the best Chinese fiction.

Perhaps not even the 52-year-old could have foreseen the twists in this relentless drama, which has elevated him from a cameo role in China’s politics into a bona fide leading man.

The opening scene, on Feb 2, was critical. Mr Wang, who was a vice-mayor in charge of public security in Chongqing, was abruptly reassigned to a post overseeing the south-western megacity’s education, science and environment.

The less prestigious post was seen as a demotion, although he remained a vice- mayor. It was an unlikely about-turn for the famous police chief, who was head-hunted by Chongqing boss Bo Xilai to help in his crackdown on local mafia.

He had been a trusted ally of Mr Bo’s in the north-east Liaoning province, where both launched their careers.

It remains unclear why Mr Bo’s relationship with Mr Wang soured. But various accounts suggest that it had something to do with Mr Bo’s wife Gu Kailai, corruption allegations and a British businessman Neil Heywood who had died last November in a hotel room in Chongqing.

Madam Gu, a lawyer-turned-housewife, according to Mr Bo last month, had allegedly clashed with Mr Heywood over business disputes.

She and her son, Mr Bo Guagua, were previously ‘on good terms’ with the Beijing-based Mr Heywood, according to state news agency Xinhua on Tuesday.

The Briton, 41, was a non-executive board member of an Aston Martin dealership in Beijing and worked as a consultant to help British firms get into China.

He was reportedly close to the Bo family, having spent time in Dalian, the former base of Mr Bo who served as mayor of the port city for eight years, and believed to have helped Guagua gain admission to his alma mater, the exclusive Harrow School.

He had even been described as a confidant of the Bos, a most unusual role since most elite Chinese politicians are highly secretive and cautious.

But their fallout strained ties, and now Madam Gu and an orderly from the Bo household are regarded as ‘highly suspected’ of homicide, said Xinhua.

This, apparently, is Mr Wang’s version of the story, leading the police to reopen investigations into Mr Heywood’s death.

Some believe Mr Wang had incurred the wrath of Mr Bo by telling him about this suspected murder case, leading to his demotion on Feb 2.

Others speculate that he was under investigation by anti-corruption agents from Beijing and had sought leniency by offering this incriminating information, among other things, about his boss’ family instead. It angered Mr Bo.

In any case, Mr Wang’s assertions about the Heywood murder are fraught with mystery and inconsistencies.

For one thing, Mr Heywood’s family in south London had told the British press they dismissed any suggestion of foul play. His mother Ann said he had died of a heart attack. Little has been heard of his Chinese wife and their two children.

British officials also said they had no suspicions last November, before changing their minds in ‘mid-February’ and asking for a re-investigation.

British Prime Minister David Cameron yesterday said he was pleased that the Chinese were investigating the case.

‘It is very important we get to the bottom of what has happened in this very disturbing and tragic case,’ he told a news conference in Jakarta.

Some foreign news outlets reported that Mr Heywood had feared for his life before he died, citing unnamed sources.

Guanyu 道 said...

But The Daily Telegraph quoted British journalist Tom Reed who met Mr Heywood, a personal friend, in Beijing in early November, as saying that the deceased was ‘very happy’. ‘I’ve no reason to suspect he didn’t die of a heart attack... There has been absolutely no proof produced that he did not,’ said Mr Reed.

Analyst Bo Zhiyue of Singapore’s East Asian Institute finds the incident incredulous. He asked: ‘The body has been cremated. How did they find new evidence? Why would Gu Kailai take such a big risk? It’s all very, very strange.’

To Peking University analyst Zhang Jian, ‘Heywood is just a flashpoint to distract the public from the political struggle in Zhongnanhai’. He said Mr Bo and Mr Wang were in the same camp and the latter was unlikely to betray his boss.

Wang’s damning dash for asylum

Whatever the cause, Mr Wang evidently believed his boss would no longer protect him - a fear most likely confirmed when he was demoted.

That prompted his by now famous 340km trip from Chongqing to the US consulate in Chengdu on Feb 6, allegedly seeking political asylum and offering damning information about Mr Bo.

He was rebuffed by the Americans, and eventually surrendered to state security and flew to Beijing where he disappeared from public view.

Two months later, Mr Bo lost his last official post as a member of the elite Politburo, as his membership in the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party was suspended on Tuesday.

It is the first time since 2006, when Shanghai party boss Chen Liangyu was purged, that a Politburo member is taken down.

It is still unclear how Mr Bo is connected to his wife’s alleged homicide suspicions. But that a member of China’s elite leadership should be linked to a possible murder of a foreigner is unheard of.

To make matters worse, Mr Bo is under investigation by the party’s anti-corruption body, signalling that more trouble is likely to come his way.

A separate theatre is already playing out, with tycoon Xu Ming, a known close ally of Mr Bo’s from his Dalian days, still missing. Local media report that the chief executive of Mr Xu’s Shide Group, Mr Chen Chunguo, has also disappeared.

It is hard to tell what the next plot twists will be in this political drama. But it is certain that this real-life Chinese soap opera is far from over.