A UK businessman murdered by the wife of top Chinese politician Bo Xilai had informed on the couple for more than a year to MI6, the Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday.
Neil Heywood shared details derived from his unusually close access to the couple, the paper said, citing his friends and current and former UK officials.
The revelation that Heywood was murdered brought down Mr Bo and revealed rifts among top Chinese leaders as they negotiated a once-a-decade power handover, which is set to start this month.
“He had been knowingly providing information about the Bo family to Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, known as MI6, for more than a year,” the report said. It added that Heywood became close to the family in the 1990s when Mr Bo was mayor of the northeastern city of Dalian. Heywood was found dead in November last year in the southwestern city of Chongqing, which Mr Bo ran at the time.
Heywood drove a silver Jaguar with the licence plate “007”, although people who knew him said he kept a low profile among fellow expatriates, the publication said.
He operated a consultancy that relied on his connections to advise businesses on how to manage Chinese bureaucracy.
After meeting someone in 2009 who later acknowledged being an MI6 officer, Heywood “met that person regularly in China” and provided “information on Mr Bo’s private affairs”, the paper said.
Mr Bo’s wife, who confessed, was given a suspended death sentence in August for poisoning Heywood. Mr Bo was removed from the ruling Communist Party’s top 25-member Politburo and now awaits trial for abuse of power and other charges.
While the murder has dominated headlines internationally, the Communist Party used its control of domestic media to portray Mr Bo’s downfall as proof of its determination to fight runaway corruption within the party, a major cause of public discontent.
Heywood’s links with the family frayed in the last two years of his life. He had not seen Mr Bo for a year when he apparently sought to obtain money which he thought the family owed him as he prepared to leave China, the report said.
The businessman seemed to be stressed, having gained weight and begun smoking more, and feared his e-mail and phone calls were being monitored. When he flew to Chongqing, he feared he was in trouble, a friend said.
However, neither Chinese nor UK officials pointed to Heywood’s spy links as a reason for his murder, it said.
His death was initially attributed to alcohol consumption. Mr Bo’s police chief and four subordinates were jailed in September for attempting to cover up for his wife.
A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman declined to comment on the report.
A spokesman for UK Prime Minister David Cameron said: “We never discuss intelligence matters.”