Murder victim Neil Heywood 'was spying on Bo Xilai' for UK

British businessman whose death sparked ructions in Chinese Communist Party, 'passed information to MI6'

LAST UPDATED AT 14:11 ON Tue 6 Nov 2012

NEIL HEYWOOD, the British businessman whose murder led to the downfall of one of China's most powerful men, was working for British intelligence, it has been claimed.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Heywood "had been knowingly providing information" about Bo Xilai, the Communist Party chief of Chongqing, and his family to MI6 "for more than a year" before his death.

Heywood was found dead in a Chongqing hotel in November 2011. Authorities said the 41-year-old had died of over-consumption of alcohol and three days later his body was cremated.
 
The British government only asked for an investigation into the death in February 2012, a week after a former Chongqing police chief fled to a US consulate and told diplomats that Bo's wife, Gu Kailai, had "killed a spy".

The news sparked a crisis in the Communist Party. Bo has been purged and faces trial for abuse of power. Gu has already been jailed for the murder of Heywood, who is said to have been poisoned.

In April, Foreign Secretary William Hague took the unprecedented step of denying that Heywood had been an employee of the British government. "That was technically true," reports the WSJ, citing people familiar with the matter. "Heywood wasn't an MI6 officer, wasn't paid and was 'never in receipt of tasking' - meaning he never was given a specific mission to carry out or asked to seek a particular piece of information.

"But he was a wilful and knowing informant, and his MI6 contact once described him as 'useful' to a former colleague."

If proven, Heywood's status as an informant is tricky for China. The WSJ says: "Chinese authorities would be guilty of a major security breach if they were unaware that MI6 had a source inside the inner family circle of a member of the Politburo."

The BBC's David Grammaticas points out that questions will also be asked of the British authorities. Specifically, why, if Heywood was known to Britain's intelligence services, did UK officials fail to press their Chinese counterparts for a thorough investigation into his death immediately after it was revealed in November? · 

For further concise, balanced comment and analysis on the week's news, try The Week magazine. Subscribe today and get 6 issues completely free.