This story has all the makings of a Hollywood film – high-profile individuals, a love scandal and corruption; the movie would have been a box office hit. On 14 November 2011, Neil Heywood, a Jaguar-driving British businessman with alleged murky links to a corporate intelligence agency, was found murdered in a hotel room in China.
Investigations soon led to Chinese lawyer Gu Kailai, who was Heywood’s lover and has been called by some as unforgiving and vengeful. She was, at the time of Heywood’s murder, still married to fallen Chinese politician Bo Xilai, making her influence far-reaching and substantial. Some say, she could even get away with murder.
It was reported that Heywood and Gu had lived together since 2001 in Bournemouth, England, and the two were passionately in love, until 2003 when Heywood called off the relationship. This led to questions being asked: did Gu kill her lover because of heartbreak or was there more to it than simply the actions of a jilted lover? There was even speculation that he was killed to protect her one true love, her husband Bo Xilai. After all, Gu left her life and her son in the UK when she returned to China to be with her husband, the ‘princeling’ of Chinese politics.
There was a delay in charging Gu with murder, and it was only nearly a year later in August 2012 that she was finally arrested. In court, Gu claimed that what drove her to kill was not hatred but love, more specifically, maternal love. Gu, who was 54 at the time, confessed to poisoning Heywood because he was allegedly blackmailing her son.
The Telegraph reported that Heywood had threatened to expose Bo’s corrupt ownership of a villa in the French Riviera. As his relationship with the family fell apart, Heywood threatened the safety of her 25-year-old son, Guagua.
The disintegration started, according to The Guardian, when Heywood first encountered the wider Bo family in 1997 when he was an English teacher in China. In 2007, the powerful Chinese family was accused of corruption and while Gu and Bo’s relationship was on the rocks, their son was living the high life throwing champagne parties at Balliol College, Oxford.
Gu, in her court testimony confessed that she had bought a US$2.5 million house in the hills overlooking Cannes in 2000 and had subsequently transferred half-share of the ownership to Heywood in 2007.
She did this to ensure the property could not be linked to her husband, whose political career was reaching its peak. “I was still the real owner but I put it in Heywood’s name,” she said. “I did not want it to cause any impact on Gu’s father.” However, she grew frustrated with the low rental income of the house and in 2011 wanted to take it back from Heywood. The Briton had apparently demanded US$1.7 million in compensation. In addition to his demands, Heywood had begun to threaten Guagua, and that proved too much for Gu and drove her to homicide.
During Gu’s hearing in 2012, prosecutors alleged that she arranged for Heywood to be escorted from Beijing to south-western Chongqing on 13 November 2011. She met him in his room at the Lucky Holiday hotel, where they drank tea and alcohol together, until he was so drunk that he vomited and needed water. She then poured him one laced with poison.
Gu’s trial only lasted a day and ended on 9 August 2012 when she confessed to her crimes and did not contest the charges against her. On 20 August 2012, she received a suspended death sentence which was commuted to life imprisonment in December 2015. Yet the fascination for the case endures. Prominent news agencies have reported that the woman in jail may not be Gu, but a clever doppelganger, according to one news agency’s sources. However, that remains an unanswered question as of press time.
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