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Britain wants probe into death in Chongqing

Citizen tied to ousted politician

- Associated Press - Monday, March 26, 2012

BEIJING — Britain has asked China to investigate the death last year of a British man with reported ties to a high-profile politician who was dismissed this month in a massive scandal.

The British citizen, Neil Heywood, died in November in Chongqing, an embassy spokesman in Beijing said.

The request comes as an investigation into officials in the megacity of Chongqing widens, with Chinese media reporting that a district head has been taken into police custody.

Chongqing Communist Party Secretary Bo Xilai was ousted earlier this month, although the reasons behind his dismissal remain unclear.

Mr. Bo gained notoriety for a citywide campaign to revive Mao Zedong-era communist songs and stories, dredging up memories of the chaotic Cultural Revolution, themes that worried some about a return of Mao's dogmatic communist politics.

Mr. Bo, 62, was one of the country's highest-profile politicians and had been considered a leading candidate for the party's all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee when new members are chosen this fall.

A professional acquaintance of Heywood's who spoke on condition of anonymity said Heywood was a consultant who had links to the Bo family stretching back to Mr. Bo's time as the top official in northeast China's Dalian more than a decade ago.

The acquaintance said Heywood maintained his close ties when Mr. Bo moved to Beijing to serve as commerce minister and later when he took the top job in Chongqing, a city of 32 million, but declined to give further details.

The Wall Street Journal on Monday cited unnamed friends and acquaintances of Heywood as saying he had told them he had close ties to the Bo family and could help arrange meetings and business deals in Chongqing. The report said the ties had been made through Heywood's Chinese wife, who is from Dalian.

Chinese websites and British media reported that officials had said Heywood died from overconsumption of alcohol.

"At the time, we had no reason to disbelieve the police's findings," the British Embassy spokesman said. "But as concerns were raised to us, and those concerns became more numerous, we then passed those concerns to the Chinese authorities and asked them to investigate."

The official, who asked not to be named in line with embassy policy, said the British government spoke with Chinese authorities to request a further investigation, but said he could not provide further details about the discussions except that they took place earlier this year.

Police in Chongqing said Monday that they had no information on the case, and Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters at a regular news briefing that he also had no information.

A Beijing-based business weekly known for bold reporting, the Economic Observer, said Sunday that the top party official in Chongqing's Nan'an district, Xia Zeliang, was detained last week but that it was still unclear what charges he might face.

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