French diplomats meet man linked to China scandal

AP News
Posted: Jul 24, 2012 9:10 PM

BEIJING (AP) — French diplomats have met with a Frenchman who arrived in China to assist in investigations into the country's biggest political scandal in years after being released from custody in Cambodia, a French Foreign Ministry spokesman said Tuesday.

Staffers from the French Embassy in Beijing met with Patrick Devillers over the weekend, again on Tuesday and planned to meet with him at the end of the week, said French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero.

It was not immediately clear if Devillers was in police custody, or whether he was free to move around or leave China.

Valero would not comment on Devillers' exact whereabouts.

"The most important thing for us is that we have access to him," Valero said. "He is well — in good shape. He is well looked after by the Chinese authorities."

News reports have said Devillers had close ties to Bo Xilai, who was a former Chinese political high-flier before he was ousted for still unexplained transgressions, a removal that exposed divisions within the leadership. Bo's wife, Gu Kailai, has been accused of involvement in the murder of a British businessman, Neil Heywood.

Devillers, an architect, reportedly helped Bo rebuild the northeastern Chinese city of Dalian when Bo was the city's mayor in the 1990s.

Bo fell from power after his former police chief and longtime aide fled to a U.S. consulate and divulged suspicions that Gu was involved in Heywood's death.

Bo was subsequently removed as Chongqing Communist Party secretary and then suspended as a Politburo member amid speculation he tried to quash an investigation of his wife and a household employee over the Briton's death.

Devillers told the French Embassy in Phnom Penh that he had an agreement with Chinese authorities that he would go to China voluntarily to cooperate in an investigation, the spokesman said. Cambodian Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak earlier said Beijing had assured the Frenchman he would be allowed to leave China within 60 days.

A trial for Bo's wife and for Wang Lijun, the former police chief, could begin this month, diplomats in Beijing have said.