Gu Kailai on trial for the murder of Neil Heywood on Aug. 20. (Photo/CNS)
One of China's senior forensic experts has cast doubts on the official narrative that British businessman Neil Heywood died of cyanide poisoning at the hands of Gu Kailai, the wife of the disgraced politician Bo Xilai. The statement by a top forensic official is significant as a contradiction of Beijing's carefully written judgment of the highly sensitive homicide case at the center of the country's biggest political scandal in 20 years ahead of the once-in-a-decade leadership transition to take place at the party's 18th National Congress in the coming weeks.
Wang Xuemei, a forensic expert with the Supreme People's Procuratorate, China's highest agency responsible for prosecution and investigation, posted an entry on her Sina Weibo microblog on Wednesday in which she said insufficient evidence was presented at Gu's trial to conclude that Heywood died from cyanide poisoning, a key part in the official account.
Gu was convicted in August of killing the British businessman in a hotel room in November 2011 in Chongqing with the help of family aide Zhang Xiaojun. She was last month handed a suspended death sentence for the crime, which is expected to be commuted to life imprisonment. Zhang was sentenced to nine years for his part in the murder.
Wang said information presented at the trial did not include a description of Heywood's immediate reaction after being administered the poison.
"This fact undoubtedly makes people being skeptical about the whole thing given Heywood did not suffer any corresponding reaction from cyanide poisoning after he was administered the toxin while in a drunken state," the expert said in the entry.
The expert said she did not doubt Gu had murdered Heywood, but if the Briton was really killed by cyanide, he would likely had died almost instantly.
Wang's remarks echoed a number of prominent Chinese figures and Heywood's friends, who cast doubt over the inconsistencies, ambiguities and omissions in the official account of the case published by the state news agency Xinhua, which could undermine the authorities' credibility ahead of the party congress later this month.
Wang's entry was removed on Thursday, not by herself. "I just want to leave myself no regrets as a professional forensic expert. I am not interested in politics or government issues," Wang told the Wall Street Journal in an interview. It is rare in China for a figure working within the legal system to voice comments in a politically sensitive case.
The case of Bo Xilai, formerly seen as a rising star set for a top seat after the power transition, has yet to be resolved. The former Chongqing party chief remains under detention for "serious discipline violations," though his former police chief Wang Lijun was last week sentenced to 15 years for his part in initially helping Gu to cover up the murder before turning whistleblower.
Bo Xilai 薄熙來
Gu Kailai 谷開來
Wang Xuemei 王雪梅
Zhang Xiaojun 張曉軍