BEIJING – All day Tuesday Beijing was abuzz; there was going to be a big announcement during the evening newscast regarding ousted Chinese politician Bo Xilai.
The evening news came and went, but there was no announcement.
Then at 11p.m. a newsreader on CCTV quickly read a brief statement from the China’s state-run Xinhua news agency.
Bo Xilai, once a rising star in the Communist Party, was now officially removed from his leadership roles including his seat in the Politburo. Bo “is suspected of being involved in serious discipline violations” the reported stated.
However the more shocking bit of news came next. Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai and a Bo family aide are accused of the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood, who until recently was a close friend of the Bo family, according to reports. Heywood apparently was instrumental in helping Bo’s son secure a place at an exclusive British boarding school.
Heywood was found dead in a hotel room last November in the western Chinese mega-city of Chongqing, where Bo was the Communist Party boss until he was removed from the post last month.
Heywood’s body reportedly was quickly cremated before a full autopsy could be completed. The cause of death at the time was deemed alcohol poisoning.
The facts didn’t add up, though, Heywood was known to be a teetotaler.
Late last month, Britain asked China to investigate the circumstances of Heywood’s death.
Xinhua’s statement Tuesday said: “According to reinvestigation results, the existing evidence indicated that Heywood died of homicide, of which Gu Kailai and Zhang Xiaojun, an orderly at Bo’s home, are highly suspected.”
The report also claimed that Gu and Heywood “had conflict over economic interests, which had been intensified.”
Xinhua said that the investigation into the Bo family began when Bo’s former right-hand man, Police Chief Wang Lijun suddenly took refuge at the U.S. consulate in neighboring city of Chengdu back in February, and apparently offered up information regarding Heywood’s death. Wang is currently also under investigation and has not been seen or heard from since he left the U.S. consulate and was reportedly escorted to Beijing by Chinese officials.
The “Wang Lijun Incident,” as it has come to be known, proved to be the beginning of the end of Bo’s political career, evolving into the biggest scandal in Chinese politics in years.
Coincidentally, the incident has occurred during an extremely sensitive time for China. The country is going through a once-in-a-decade leadership transition and political factions within the Communist government are jockeying for power beneath a veneer of party unity.
The 62-year old Bo, a charismatic media-savvy populist, was a controversial figure among his peers for his unabashed politicking. Up until last month, when he was removed from his Chongqing post, Bo was believed to be poised for a top leadership position. Now, all that has come crashing down.
The Xinhua statement gave no specifics on what “serious discipline violations” Bo is accused of, but one thing seems certain: his career is over. And in all likelihood, this very public purging of him and his family members has only just begun.