By JEREMY PAGE –Wall Street Journal
The day before his death in the fog-shrouded Chinese city of Chongqing, Neil Heywood sensed that something was amiss.
The British businessman had been summoned on short notice to a meeting in Chongqing in early November with representatives of the family of Bo Xilai, the local Communist Party chief, according to an account by a friend whom Mr. Heywood contacted at the time. Mr. Heywood told the friend he was “in trouble.”
After he flew to Chongqing, he tried to telephone his usual contacts but couldn’t get through to any of them, according to the friend. He was left waiting alone in his hotel room for instructions.
Mr. Heywood felt he had reason to be nervous, although he had taken steps to protect himself. He had told the same friend earlier that he had left documents detailing the overseas investments of Mr. Bo’s family with his lawyer in Britain as an “insurance policy” in case anything happened to him.
He had also told friends that he was concerned about his safety after falling out with Mr. Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, who he said knew about the documents and was convinced she had been betrayed by someone in the family’s “inner circle” of friends and advisers.
The new details about what drew Mr. Heywood to Chongqing, how he spent some of his final hours, and his claim to possess the documents about the Bos’ foreign business interests shed fresh light on his mysterious death in his hotel room. Chinese authorities on Tuesday characterized the death as an “intentional homicide.”
The Chinese authorities said Mr. Bo, who was sacked as Chongqing party chief last month, had been stripped of his remaining party posts, and that his wife, Ms. Gu, was in custody as a suspect in the murder of Mr. Heywood. Beyond saying that Ms. Gu and her son had been close to Mr. Heywood and had fallen out with him over a financial matter, the authorities haven’t provided details about Ms. Gu’s suspected role in a case that has thrown elite Chinese politics into turmoil.
A spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry said Wednesday the government had briefed the U.S. and British embassies in Beijing about the case.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said he welcomed the probe. “It is very important we get to the truth of what happened in this very disturbing case, this very tragic case,” he said.
Given Mr. Bo’s political prominence and recent downfall, some experts on Chinese politics question whether an impartial investigation is likely. The initial allegations that Mr. Heywood may have been poisoned after a dispute with Ms. Gu, which were first reported by The Wall Street Journal, came from a former Chongqing police chief, Wang Lijun, who sought refuge in a U.S. consulate in the city of Chengdu in February.
The new details add to a growing body of evidence about the suspicious nature of Mr. Heywood’s death that is independent of Mr. Wang’s and the Chinese government’s accounts.
Attempts to contact Mr. Bo and his wife directly and through intermediaries weren’t successful. Mr. Heywood’s mother, Ann, declined to comment or identify the lawyer to whom Mr. Heywood may have provided documents.
Mr. Heywood’s accountant and several other friends said they had not heard him talk about a lawyer or leaving documents in Britain. Whether or not the documents Mr. Heywood claimed to have actually exist couldn’t be determined.
Even if no such documents exist, his claim to possess them provides an insight into a man who had used his wit and charm to form an unusually close relationship with a senior Chinese leader, only to apparently find himself out of his depth in the world of elite Chinese politics.
Mr. Heywood came from a middle-class family and was educated at Harrow, a private boarding school, and Warwick University. After studying Chinese in Beijing, he moved to the northeastern city of Dalian, where Mr. Bo was mayor from 1993 to 2001.
Mr. Heywood told friends he had formed a relationship with Mr. Bo after writing him asking for help exploring business opportunities, and offering to help attract foreign investment to the city, which Mr. Bo was trying to transform into a fashion and information-technology hub.
Mr. Heywood married a Chinese woman from Dalian, Wang Lulu, and set up several companies, including one called Neil Heywood & Associates, some of which offered consulting services to foreign businesses trying to invest in Dalian and other parts of China.
At the time, Ms. Gu was doing similar work through a company called Horas Consultancy & Investment, according to people close to her, but there is no public evidence that she or her company had a business relationship with Mr. Heywood’s companies.
Mr. Heywood became close to the Bo family after helping arrange for the couple’s son to study in Britain. He began telling friends he was part of an “inner circle” of about a dozen people that included one other foreigner, French architect Patrick Henri Devillers.
British public records show that between 2000 and 2003, Mr. Devillers shared a residential address with Horus Kai—the name Ms. Gu used in her foreign business dealings—in the British seaside city of Bournemouth. Mr. Devillers couldn’t be located for comment.
After Mr. Bo was appointed Commerce Minister and moved to Beijing in 2004, Mr. Heywood also moved to the Chinese capital and continued to work as a freelance consultant. He worked as an adviser to the Beijing dealership of Aston Martin, the British sports-car maker. He also did due-diligence work for companies including Hakluyt, a strategic business intelligence company founded by former members of the British foreign intelligence service, MI6, according to a spokesman for the company.
Friends say he played up the mysterious elements of his work in China. He wore cream-colored linen jackets, drove a Jaguar and took his family yachting off the coast of Dalian, according to two of his friends.
By 2007, when Mr. Bo was appointed Communist Party chief of Chongqing, Mr. Heywood told at least one friend he was sufficiently close to Mr. Bo to accompany him as he flew into the city to take up his new post. Several businessmen subsequently reported seeing Mr. Heywood in meetings between Mr. Bo and visiting foreign officials.
Ms. Gu had always been emotionally volatile, but she grew increasingly neurotic after she was subjected to a corruption investigation around 2007, Mr. Heywood told friends. People close to her said she suffered from depression in recent years.
At one point in about 2010, she asked members of her inner circle to divorce their wives and swear an oath of loyalty, according to one friend. Mr. Heywood refused, which angered her for a while, this person said.
Over the next year or so, Mr. Heywood grew increasingly nervous, warning some friends and business contacts not to discuss sensitive matters over email or by telephone. He began to smoke more, lost much of his hair and put on weight, according to several friends. One quoted Mr. Heywood saying he was under “intolerable pressure” from the Bo family. He told several friends he was planning to leave China next year.
His safety concerns appeared to shift based on how he was getting along with the family, friends say.
Tom Reed, a British journalist who has met him about four times over the past three years, said Mr. Heywood appeared happy when they dined together on Nov. 8, and didn’t mention any plans to go to Chongqing. He said Mr. Heywood talked of a rift with Mr. Bo due to someone in the “inner circle” speaking badly of him, but gave the impression that his concerns about safety had passed.
Those concerns apparently flared anew when he was summoned to Chongqing and left alone in his hotel, according to the other friend’s account. Mr. Heywood didn’t tell that friend what the meeting was about.
What happened next in that hotel room remains a mystery. Neither British nor Chinese officials have disclosed the name of the hotel or the time when the body was discovered.
Local officials said at the time he had died from excessive alcohol consumption, and they quickly cremated his body without an autopsy, according to British officials. Mr. Heywood’s family, however, was told he died of a heart attack.