MI6 Headquarters in London, UK. Image credit: Steve Cadman.
In the latest development in the scandal that keeps on giving, the Wall Street Journal‘s Jeremy Page has uncovered evidence that Neil Heywood, the Briton murdered by Bo Xilai’s wife Gu Kailai, was briefing MI6 (the British secret service) for over a year before his death.
Page suggested shortly after the murder became public that Heywood, who drove a car with ‘007’ license plates and worked part time for a firm set up by former British spies, might have had links to MI6.
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.
The Journal investigation, based on interviews with current and former British officials and close friends of the murdered Briton, found that a person Mr. Heywood met in 2009 later acknowledged being an MI6 officer to him. Mr. Heywood subsequently met that person regularly in China and continued to provide information on Mr. Bo’s private affairs.
British Foreign Minister William Hague, who oversees MI6, issued a statement in April that Mr Heywood was “not an employee of the British government in any capacity”. Proof that British intelligence agencies were spying on a high-ranking Chinese official could be disastrous for British-Chinese relations. Page has uncovered evidence which suggests that, while Heywood was not an MI6 agent himself, he was “a wilful and knowing informant” to those who were.
Mr. Heywood’s intelligence links cast new light on the response to his death from British authorities, who initially accepted the local police’s conclusion that he died from “excessive alcohol consumption” and didn’t try to prevent his body from being quickly cremated without an autopsy. The British government didn’t ask China for an investigation until Feb. 15—a week after a former Chongqing police chief, Wang Lijun, fled to a U.S. consulate in China and told U.S. diplomats that Mr. Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, had murdered the Briton.
A Chinese court found Gu guilty of murdering Heywood in August because she thought he threatened her son over a business dispute, according to state media reports from the closed trial.
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.
A spokesman for the British embassy said of the latest claims: “We do not comment on intelligence matters or allegations of intelligence matters.”