Neil Heywood: “Peripheral Figure”, or MI6 Informant?

If the “semi-opentrial of Gu Kailai for the murder of Neil Heywood was meant to lay the matter of his death to rest, it has not been entirely successful. Immediately afterwards, questions emerged about apparent inconsistencies between the official story and other accounts, while even reputable newspapers reported suspicions that the woman in the courtroom was not Gu Kailai at all. The trial in September of Gu’s co-conspirator Wang Lijun implicated former Chongqing Party chief Bo Xilai himself in his wife’s crime, at least to the extent of having helped conceal it. This was soon confirmed by the announcement that Bo would face criminal charges for, among other things, his “major responsibility” in the case. Meanwhile, one of China’s most senior forensic scientists argued that Gu’s description of Heywood’s final moments was inconsistent with the purported cause of death. Last week, she claimed that her analysis of public documents suggested that Heywood’s killing took place “to stop someone from disclosing a secret and that secret is not a sexual relationship, but bigger and more complicated, unspeakable.”

The latest twist comes from The Wall Street Journal. Based “on interviews with current and former British officials and close friends of the murdered Briton”, Jeremy Page reports that Heywood had been providing MI6 with information on Bo for over a year before he died:

In meetings, the British consultant hinted about his connections to Bo Xilai—the onetime Communist Party highflier—but often he would refuse to hand over a business card. He spoke Mandarin, smoked heavily and worked part time for a dealer of Aston Martin cars, the British brand driven by James Bond. Some thought him a fantasist, others a fraud.

But his contrived aura of mystery appears to have been a double bluff: He had been knowingly providing information about the Bo family to Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, known as MI6, for more than a year when he was murdered in China last November, an investigation by The Wall Street Journal has found.

[…] Mr. Heywood was a potentially risky choice as an informant, not least because of the 007 license plate on his Jaguar. He was, on the other hand, an old-fashioned patriot with a taste for adventure. He was in the rare position of having regular contact with the family of a Politburo member as well as intimate knowledge of their private affairs, according to several of his closest friends. Ms. Gu was godmother to his daughter, Olivia, according to one close friend.

Next week, on the other hand, the UK’s Channel 4 is scheduled to air a documentary painting yet another picture of Heywood, as a “peripheral figure” caught between Bo Xilai and his political opponents:

Dispatches has made contact with a close personal friend of both Neil Heywood and his alleged killer, a first-hand witness to many of the events in the saga, whose testimony challenges everything we thought we knew about the story. Far from being in the Bo family’s inner circle, or the broker of six figure deals, this insider claims that Neil Heywood was a peripheral figure, who befriended the family’s son Guagua: an Old Harrovian giving succour to a new Harrovian, carrying out mundane and unprofitable tasks for the Chinese pupil at sea in an English public school. He reveals the details of Heywood’s first meeting with the family, and expose how, when Heywood’s luck ran out, his own businesses in Beijing failing, he twice approached the family, asking for millions of pounds, demands that, according to the insider, were reported to the police by the woman who would later be accused of murdering him. A dutiful wife, who forsook her own lucrative legal career to support the political ambitions of her husband, Gu Kailai had narrowly survived an attempt on her own life, details of which we can reveal for the first time.

The insider’s testimony maintains that Gu was then framed for killing Heywood. Her husband’s numerous political opponents foresaw how the death of an inconsequential English associate could disbar Bo from office, dismantling his deep-rooted support among China’s poor for whom he remains a champion, and, creating a global scandal.

Updated at 11:21 PST: The Hindu’s Ananth Krishnan has relayed a Foreign Ministry spokesperson’s comments on the Wall Street Journal report: