Insight: French architect could be pivotal figure in China scandal

Tue May 15, 2012 10:21am EDT
 

By Alice Cannet and Lucy Hornby

RAINANS/DALIAN (Reuters) - An elusive French architect is emerging as a key figure in China's biggest political scandal in two decades, with evidence suggesting he shared both an affectionate and close business relationship with the Chinese woman at the heart of the scandal.

Patrick Henri Devillers, 52, is one of two Westerners in China known to have had close business ties to the family of deposed Chinese politician Bo Xilai, specifically with Bo's wife who is accused of murdering the other expatriate, Neil Heywood.

Until now, only Heywood was alleged to have also had a close personal relationship with Bo's glamorous wife, Gu Kailai - a factor that has led Chinese police to treat his murder as one where intense feelings of betrayal played a part. Gu is alleged to have poisoned Heywood in November after a row over money.

But one man who knew Heywood and Devillers during the pair's association with the Bo family said Devillers had shown much more affection and intimacy towards Gu than Heywood had done, and that he had assumed Gu and the Frenchman were lovers.

"Heywood was an interesting and amusing character," said UK businessman Giles Hall. But he added, "Devillers was the one who used to pat her on the back and put his arm around her in a restaurant. They were definitely, I would have said, an item."

Hall had business dealings and socialized with Heywood, Devillers and Gu over a decade ago, mostly in the UK where Bo's wife was carrying out some business and her son was attending school. At the time, Bo was mayor of Dalian, in northeast China.

The suspicion Devillers had a romantic link with Gu - in addition to business ties - suggests the Frenchman could be more than a peripheral figure in the Bo scandal, details of which are sketchy. The police case against Gu has not been made public.

Devillers and Gu gave the same residential address when they set up a UK company in 2000: a top-story flat in an office building in the faded resort town of Bournemouth. Some office workers inside the building said they remembered Gu from that time but did not recall her having any male companions.   Continued...

 
Keystone House, an office block which is believed to be the living place where Gu Kailai, wife of China's former Chongqing Municipality Communist Party Secretary Bo Xilai stayed, is seen in Bournemouth, April 18, 2012. REUTERS/Peter Griffiths