A Chinese connection? Bo Xilai favoured upmarket Kensington in London.
A year ago, Bo Xilai was a leading light in China’s Communist Party and widely tipped as a future possible leader of the country. His fall from grace has been a spectacular – and spectacularly complex – saga, made even murkier by the death last November of a British businessman who supposedly worked as a fixer for Bo and his wife, Gu Kailai.
Before his downfall, Bo was a powerful man – although, with an official Communist Party salary of just $20,000 (£12,900), he was not supposed to be a wealthy one. Today the Financial Times examines a pair of London property deals connected to Bo, and the fixers who allegedly helped secure them.
The investigation underlines the vital role western fixers play in helping Chinese officials secure overseas assets. ‘Senior Communist party members are barred from unauthorised international travel and are not supposed to own assets abroad. But, in practice, many officials have secreted large fortunes outside the country,’ writes Financial Times reporter Sally Gainsbury.
Gainsbury details how a British Virgin Islands-registered company, Golden Map Ltd, bought ‘at least two’ flats in Kensington, London, in 2002 and 2003. The properties, which were reportedly bought for a combined £1.2m, are now said to be worth over £2m between them.
An alleged fixer, French architect Patrick Devillers, helped secure the properties, the FT reports. The architect reportedly made initial enquiries with the estate agents for one property and was the addressee for maintenance bills and other correspondence for the other, as well as staying intermittently at one of the properties.
Devillers ‘played an important role in securing at least part of the Bo family’s jet-setting life’, the paper reports. Company documents show Devillers co-owned a company with Bo’s wife, Gu, which was dissolved in September 2003. Devillers was recently arrested in Cambodia, accused of non-specified crimes in China, which the Financial Times says ‘are thought to relate to Mr Bo’.
Bo and Gu’s son, Bo Guagua, reportedly used one of the flats as a London pad while he was studying at Oxford University.
The smaller flat, was sold last year for a reported £700,000.
Bo Xilai: some background
When Neil Heywood, a businessman with rumoured links to MI6, died in his hotel room in China last November, it was believed to be due to alcohol poisoning and there was little reporting of it in the international press. His body was cremated the next day, with no autopsy, and his close business links to Bo Xilai, party chief of the massive city of Chonqing and one of China’s most powerful politicians, were at first largely overlooked.
The case leapt into the headlines in April this year, when a police chief accused Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, of poisoning Heywood. Gu, who had extensive business dealings in the UK, was alleged to have been involved in a business dispute with Heywood; she was also rumoured to have been romantically involved with him. She is now under investigation for Heywood’s murder.
These allegations triggered Bo’s swift downfall: he was removed from his position as party chief of Chonqing and suspended from the Communist Party leadership.
Yet some claim the charges have been concocted in order to unseat Bo, whose populist Left-leaning policies were said to be unsettling senior Party figures. A Foreign Policy article points out that the trope of the ‘Dragon Lady’ - the steely wife whose ambition ends up destroying her husband – is well established in Chinese culture.
Whether the allegations are cooked-up or not, the lurid claims have unfolded into the biggest political scandal in China’s history – and it’s a tale with plenty more distance to run.
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