Ousted Chinese politician Bo Xilai, who was once seen as a strong contender for a top Chinese leadership job, is being held at a "remote" location and will likely face criminal charges that are at least as serious as those leveled at former mayors of Beijing and Shanghai, according to Chinese political sources.
Bo, who was suspended last week from high-ranking positions in China's ruling Communist Party following his ouster as Party secretary in the southwestern city of Chongqing, has already been targeted by commentaries in China's state media.
The scandal surrounding his high-profile crime campaigns and his wife's linking to the murder of a British national continues to widen, according to Chinese political sources.
Official media have said Bo is under investigation for "serious" violations of Party discipline, but have so far made no mention of judicial procedures against him.
A source in mainland China familiar with Party disciplinary procedures said he thinks Bo's fall from power will have far wider implications for Chinese politics than the sacking and subsequent jailing of former Beijing mayor Chen Xitong and former Shanghai Party secretary Chen Liangyu.
"This is even more serious than that," the source said. "We will have to see what they decide [Bo's crime is]."
He said Bo was being held under house arrest in a "remote" location. "It's pretty far away."
The source added that Bo's former right-hand man and police chief Wang Lijun had warned Bo in a spirit of friendship that his wife, Gu Kailai, was implicated in the murder of British national Neil Heywood last November, but had underestimated how strongly his boss would react.
"Actually, Wang [and Bo] were really on the same side," the source said. "He told him to be helpful, but once it was out there, Bo's only option was to pursue [Wang] to the death."
"Now, [the authorities] just want to calm everybody down and make sure everyone is on message."
'A dangerous game'
Wang's Feb. 6 flight to the U.S. consulate in Chengdu, during which he revealed evidence incriminating Bo and his family is believed to have been sparked by that meeting between the two men, according to documents leaked online, purportedly from high-level Party meetings.
Meanwhile, a source familiar with Chinese politics at the highest level agreed that Bo's case would have more political implications than those of the two Chens.
"The Bo affair is much, much bigger," the source said. "Nobody can stop talking about it; they are all enjoying themselves, too."
Meanwhile, a veteran Chinese journalist working directly for the central government said that Bo's ouster was bigger news by far than the trials of either Chen Xitong or Chen Liangyu.
"Everyone is avidly talking about the Bo affair, and in particular [how it will affect] the highest levels of leadership," he said.
"Everyone wants some kind of influence over who will be the next generation of leaders."
He said recent media commentaries had made it clear that Bo would be charged with a crime.
"The signs are there if you look at the Xinhua headlines and the commentaries in the People's Daily," he said. "Bo will go the way of the two Chens."
"Politics is a pretty dangerous game."
A Beijing-based official familiar with Bo's investigation said he expects some kind of public confirmation of Bo's fate ahead of a crucial leadership meeting later in the year, where the administration of President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao is set to hand over the reins of power to the next generation of Chinese leaders.
"There should be some kind of decision before the 18th Party Congress," the official said.
As discussion and speculation grip the nation, further evidence is emerging to support claims that Bo's campaign against organized crime during his tenure in Chongqing was a "red terror" akin to the worst excesses of the political turmoil of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).
Li Zhuang, a former defense attorney for Chongqing banking official Gong Gangmo, who was found guilty of corruption and was also accused of links to the city's criminal gangs, confirmed recent claims by former Chongqing businessman Li Jun that Bo had presided over a reign of terror in the city.
"A few dozen defendents in the Gong Gangmo case were taken to an army reserve training camp in Tiesanping, strung up, and beaten," Li told RFA's Cantonese service. "This was worse than terrorism."
"These sorts of methods were very common in Chongqing [at that time], and would be used in any criminal case, whether it had links to the mafia or not," Li said.
"They would beat up anyone they detained, then force them to confess, and get them to sign their name to a document that had been prepared well in advance."
He said that some had died in police custody, but that it had proved too difficult to find evidence proving their cause of death.
On Monday, Reuters reported sources close to the Heywood investigation as saying that the businessman was poisoned after he threatened to expose a plan by Gu to move money abroad, suggesting for the first time a specific motive for Heywood's murder.
It said Gu had "become outraged" after Heywood demanded a larger cut of the money than she had expected due to the size of the transaction, and hatched a plan to kill him.
Gu is currently in police custody on suspicion of committing or arranging Heywood's murder, though no details of the motive or the crime itself have been publicly released.
"Heywood told her that if she thought he was being too greedy, then he didn't need to become involved and wouldn't take a penny of the money, but he also said he could also expose it," one source told Reuters.
Police suspect Heywood, 41, may have been poisoned by a drink, and that he may have been killed at the Nanshan Lijing Holiday Hotel, a secluded hilltop retreat on the outskirts of the city.
The sources said Gu and Heywood, who had lived in China since the early 1990s, shared a long and close personal relationship, but were not romantically involved, the agency said.
Heywood reportedly got to know the powerful family when Bo Xilai was mayor of Dalian in the 1990s. Heywood helped with getting the couple's son, Bo Guagua, into Harrow, an exclusive British boarding school.
Bo Guagua, now a student at Harvard University, has been taken away by U.S. officials, possibly for his own protection, while Heywood's wife has requested a visa to flee China to the U.K., media reports said on Monday.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service, and by Hai Nan and Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.