Carefully Managed Leaks Hint at a Financial Motive for Murder in China

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Reuters' scoop revealing a possible motive in the alleged killing of Brit Neil Heywood in China also offers a glimpse of how difficult reporting can be in a nation where information is so tightly controlled by the government. The report, by Chris Buckley, cites sources with "close ties to the Chinese police" who said Gu Kailai, the wife of disgraced Communist party Chongqing secretary Bo Xilai, had poisoned Heywood because he had threatened to expose a massive financial transaction she had asked him to help her with.

But there's no official word on the allegation because "the Chinese government did not respond to faxed questions about the case." Faxed questions. Those two words conjure the image of frustratingly unavailable officials. Surely Reuters' reporters don't use the fax machine as their primary information gathering tool, so the fact that that's how they're contacting the Chinese police reveals just how much the police don't want to be contacted. 

Still, every organization has mouths somewhere within its ranks, and eventually the story trickles out. Sources told Buckley that Gu wanted Heywood to help her move money out of the country, but when he wanted a larger cut she said he was being "too greedy." That's when he threatened to reveal the transaction, and Gu allegedly killed him.

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Another detail from the investigation -- that Xia Deliang, a Communist Party official from Chongqing, had confessed to supplying Gu with potassium cyanide with which to poison Heywood -- shows another apparent Communist Party information management technique: The Australian reported: "The claims of the confession were made in widely read postings on a popular Chinese website, They were not immediately censored, leading analysts to believe they were officially sanctioned leaks."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.