A flamboyant and telegenic politician who until recently seemed destined for the top ranks of China's leadership was stripped of his most powerful posts Tuesday and his wife was named in the murder of a British businessman as Chinese leaders moved to stem a scandal that has exposed divisive infighting.
The announcement that Bo Xilai was being suspended from the Communist Party's Politburo and Central Committee and that his wife was a suspect in a homicide investigation put an end to a colorful political career. Media-savvy with a populist flair, Bo gained a huge following for busting organized crime and for reviving communist culture while running the megacity of Chongqing.
His publicity-seeking ways angered some in the top leadership, however. In recent weeks, allegations of Bo's and his family's misdeeds leaked into public view, threatening to complicate preparations by the leadership for a delicate, once-a-decade transition to younger leaders at a congress later this year.
"This means the political career of Bo Xilai is over," said Cheng Li, a Chinese politics expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington.
Bo's patrons included retired party elders who retain influence over senior appointments. Among his vocal supporters were influential generals and party members, scholars and ordinary Chinese who identify themselves as leftists.
Bo's removal from top government posts came on suspicion of involvement in unspecified but "serious discipline violations," the Central Committee said, and his case was handed over to internal party investigators.
His wife, Gu Kailai, and an orderly at their home were being investigated for intentional homicide in the death of Briton Neil Heywood, the Xinhua News Agency said. Heywood's death in November in Chongqing was initially blamed on excessive drinking, something his friends have said he was not known to do.
Tuesday's brief reports sketch out and corroborate accounts that have circulated among politically connected Chinese ever since Bo's high-flying career began unraveling in February, after a trusted aide fled temporarily to the U.S. Consulate in the nearby city of Chengdu.
The aide, Wang Lijun, had suspicions that Bo's family was involved in Heywood's death, people familiar with the case said. After Bo sought to squelch an investigation, Wang sought asylum in the consulate and brought with him documents, the reports said.
The Xinhua report confirmed that while at the consulate, Wang alleged that Heywood had been murdered. The allegations prompted the British government to ask for a new inquiry and, Xinhua said, prompted Chinese authorities to reopen an investigation.