Britain wants probe into death in Chongqing
Citizen tied to ousted politician
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.
The State Department downplayed concerns Monday that Islamists are dominating the drafting of Egypt’s new constitution, despite criticism and outrage voiced by secular and Christian politicians in Cairo.
“We’re not going to prejudge, obviously, the work of this panel,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said, referring the 100-person body elected over the weekend by a post-revolution parliament to write the constitution.
Two liberal Egyptian politicians quit the panel Monday, citing concerns that it is being dominated by Islamists and lacks sufficient representation for women and Christians.
About 70 percent of the panel comprises independent Islamists or members of Islamist parties including the Muslim Brootherhood.
Ms. Nuland told reporters in Washington that the constitutional panel represents “one of the next steps in the Egyptian transition process,” and noted that the new constitution will still “have to be put to referendum before the Egyptian people.”
Asked whether U.S. officials are concerned the panel is dominated by Islamists, Ms. Nuland said: “We’re not going to judge these groups by their names [or] their history. We’re going to judge them by what they do, we’re going to judge them by the output.”
She added: “This panel is from the elected parliament, so having been elected democratically, it’s now their obligation to uphold and defend and protect the democratic rights that brought them to power in the first place.
“That’s the standard that we’ll hold them to,” she said.
U.s.-egypt relations were frayed earlier this year when Cairo’s military rulers cracked down on American nonprofit groups that promote democracy abroad. Egyptian authorities raided their offices, arrested several workers and charged them with fomenting chaos.
The workers were permitted to leave the nation this month, but many still face criminal charges in Egyptian courts. The issue has prompted a bipartisan group of congressional leaders to call for an end to U.S. aid to Egypt.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, however, notified Congress on Friday of her intention to waive certain democracy requirements so that $1.3 billion in U.S. aid could flow to Egypt.
Noting Cairo’s commitment to the Israeli-egypt peace treaty, the State Department also is moving to free up $200 million in economic aid during the post-revolution transition.
Meanwhile in Egypt, the ruling military issued a veiled threat of a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood if the group persists in demands to form a new government, the Associated Press reported.
The warning points to a growing possibility of confrontation between the Muslim Brotherhood and the military, which emerged as Egypt’s two most powerful institutions since the fall of longtime authoritarian ruler Hosni Mubarak a year ago.
China’s Communist Party sidelined Bo Xilai, the powerful and charismatic Chongqing party secretary, earlier this month. Now Britain wants an investigation into the death of a citizen with reported ties to Mr. Bo.