BEIJING — A flamboyant and telegenic politician who until recently seemed destined for the top ranks of China's leadership was stripped of his most powerful posts on Tuesday and his wife named in the murder of a British businessman.
The announcement that Bo Xilai was being suspended from the Communist Party's Politburo and Central Committee and that his wife was a suspect in a homicide investigation put an end to a colorful political career. Media-savvy with a populist flair, Bo gained a nationwide following for busting organized crime and for reviving communist culture while running the inland mega-city of Chongqing.
His publicity-seeking ways angered some in the top leadership, however. In recent weeks, allegations of Bo's and his family's misdeeds leaked into public view, threatening to complicate preparations by the leadership for a once-a-decade transition to younger leaders at a congress this year.
"This means the political career of Bo Xilai is over," said Cheng Li, a Chinese politics expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington. "The party wants to really resolve the Bo Xilai crisis in a relatively short period of time. They want to make sure that the attention for the 18th party congress will not suffer too much from the Bo Xilai episode."
His wife, Gu Kailai, and an orderly at their home were being investigated for intentional homicide in the death of Briton Neil Heywood, the Xinhua News Agency said. Heywood's death in November in Chongqing was initially blamed on excessive drinking, something his friends have said he was not known to do.
Tuesday's brief media reports sketch out and corroborate accounts that have circulated among politically connected Chinese ever since Bo's high-flying career began unraveling in February after a trusted aide fled temporarily to the U.S. Consulate in the nearby city of Chengdu.
The Xinhua report said that the aide, Wang Lijun, alleged while at the consulate that Heywood had been murdered. The allegations prompted the British government to ask for a new inquiry and, Xinhua said, prompted Chinese authorities to reopen an investigation.
The Xinhua account said that Gu and the couple's son, Bo Guagua, had been on good terms with Heywood but that they had a conflict over unspecified "economic interests" that worsened. The investigators found that Heywood's death was likely a homicide and that Gu and the family orderly, Zhang Xiaojun, are suspects, Xinhua said.