China pledged on Wednesday to investigate the unfolding Bo Xilai political scandal "thoroughly," as a prominent rights lawyer called on the authorities to ensure the former Chongqing party chief and his former police chief Wang Lijun receive a fair trial.
China's official Xinhua news agency said on Wednesday that the Bo scandal would be "thoroughly" investigated, a day after British prime minister David Cameron offered help with a police probe into the murder that Bo's wife has been linked to of U.K. national in the southwestern Chinese city last November.
China's ruling Communist Party "has made a resolute decision to thoroughly investigate related events and release information in a timely manner," Xinhua said in a commentary.
"The Wang Lijun incident is a serious political event that has created an adverse influence both at home and abroad, the death of Neil Heywood is a serious criminal case involving the kin and aides of a Party and state leader, and Bo has seriously violated Party discipline," it said.
Bo, once seen as a strong contender for a top job in China's upcoming leadership transition, was suspended from the highest echelons of the Party on April 10, after Wang, his former right-hand man, was taken into custody by Party investigators in February following a visit to the U.S. consulate in Chengdu.
Bo's wife, Gu Kailai, has since been handed over to police investigating Heywood's murder, with official media naming her repeatedly as a suspect.
Official media have revealed few details of the case and have so far made no mention of judicial procedures against Bo.
U.K. media quoted Chongqing scholar Wang Kang as saying that Heywood and Gu had lived together in the southwestern seaside resort of Bournemouth, while Gu and Bo's son, Bo Guagua, was attending school there.
Heywood had been seen to be on intimate terms with Gu by neighbors, the Daily Mail reported, quoting Wang Kang as saying there was "definitely" a romantic connection between the two.
Reports have claimed they fell out after Heywood threatened to expose Gu's plans for a large, international money transfer.
Xinhua made no mention of the reports. But it quoted police sources as saying, "Bo's wife had been on good terms with Heywood, although they eventually came into conflict over economic interests."
Call for rule of law
Meanwhile, a prominent Beijing-based rights lawyer has called for Wang and Bo, both of whom are suspected of "serious violations" of Party discipline but have yet to be charged with any crime, to be given a fair trial.
Describing Bo and Wang as "political predators" who routinely violated legal procedures during their tenure in Chongqing, Pu Zhiqiang said neither politician really believed in the revolutionary songs they promoted in the city, nor the Mao-era ideology from whence they sprang.
"My personal feeling is that they were both engaged in violating the rule of law and existing rules and regulations, and that they were both greedy and insatiable," Pu said in an interview with RFA's Mandarin service.
"[They] promoted the attitudes of the Cultural Revolution, but out of all Chinese leaders and officials, I'd say that there isn't a single one who believes in all that less than Bo Xilai and Wang Lijun," he said.
"Now it turns out that they were in fact among the most corrupt and dirty [of operators] who destroyed the rule of law," Pu added. "Now Wang Lijun and Bo Xilai are being being exposed and criticized using exactly the same methods."
But he blamed the failure to implement respect for the rule of law and human rights on outgoing President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao, who are due to hand over the reins of power to a new generation of Chinese leaders at a crucial Party congress later this year.
"I hope that our future leaders will help us to build a disciplined country that has a sincere respect for the law," Pu said. "Don't give us any more of this harmonious society stuff; it won't work."
"I hope that they will get a fair trial; a trial will will bear up under the scrutiny of the people," said Pu, who has defended some of China's most prominent political dissidents and rights campaigners.
Mystery in Chongqing
The connection between Bo's family and Heywood has prompted a round of criticism of U.K. diplomats and intelligence services, who didn't inform government ministers of the possible link until months after Heywood died.
His body was cremated without autopsy, and his family initially accepted the explanation that he had died after drinking too much alcohol.
In the absence of detailed coverage of the case in China's tightly controlled media, journalists have now descended on Chongqing from around the world, in the hope of picking up clues.
"It's pretty hard to get a room here," said an employee who answered the phone at Chongqing's Nanshan Lijing Holiday Hotel, also known as the Lucky Holiday Hotel, where Heywood's body was reportedly found.
"A lot of journalists have checked in for today and tomorrow."
She said each of the villas was monitored by closed-circuit television cameras. "We also have security guards who patrol the area every evening," she said.
Reported by He Ping for RFA's Mandarin service and by Ho Shan for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.