In the latest twist in the biggest political scandal to hit the ruling Communist Party in decades, China has formally charged the wife of ousted Chongqing Party chief Bo Xilai with the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood.
Gu Kailai and a former employee were charged with Heywood's "intentional homicide," the official Xinhua news agency reported on Thursday.
"Investigation results show that [Gu] Kailai, one of the defendants, and her son surnamed Bo had conflicts with the British citizen Neil Heywood over economic interests," Xinhua reported in the first official word on the once-powerful Bo family's fate since the March 15 ouster of Bo Xilai as Communist Party secretary of Chongqing.
"Worrying about Neil Heywood's threat to her son's personal security, [Gu] Kailai along with Zhang Xiaojun, the other defendant, poisoned Neil Heywood to death," it said.
Heywood, 41, was discovered dead in a Chongqing hotel in November, and was quickly cremated after his death was blamed on a drinking binge.
The charges were filed by state prosecutors in Hefei, the capital of eastern China's Anhui province, following interrogation of the two defendants, Xinhua said.
A trial date will be announced by the Hefei Intermediate People's Court, it said.
In an apparent indicator of the likely outcome of the trial, the Xinhua report appeared to take the position that the guilt of Gu and her alleged collaborator Zhang Xiaojun had already been established.
"The facts of the two defendants' crime are clear, and the evidence is irrefutable and substantial," the agency reported. "Therefore, the two defendants should be charged with intentional homicide."
The tone of the report could lend weight to unconfirmed reports that Gu confessed to Heywood's murder.
The announcement comes just days after a key witness in the case, Cambodia-based French architect Patrick Devillers, flew to Beijing to assist Chinese police with their inquiries. French and Cambodian officials said he did so of his own free will.
Patrick Henri Devillers, 52, is believed to have had close ties to Gu, and had given the same address as her while living in London, according to U.K. media reports.
The fall of Bo Xilai has embroiled China's ruling Communist Party in the biggest political scandal in decades, just ahead of a key leadership transition later in the year, and Devillers was initially detained at Beijing's request.
But no details have yet been made public by China about the ongoing investigation into "serious violations" of Party discipline alleged against Bo and his former police chief Wang Lijun.
Reported by Luisetta Mudie.