BEIJING – A top Chinese leader said Thursday that there's no evidence the British businessman whose murder became part of a major political scandal was a spy.
Vice Premier Zhang Dejiang, who was put in charge of the mega-city of Chongqing in the scandal's wake, also rejected the notion that his predecessor, the now-purged leader Bo Xilai, had left any positive legacy in his administration of the city.
Responding to reporters' questions, Zhang belittled what was once heralded by the Chinese media as the "Chongqing Model" — a code phrase for the populist crime-fighting and social policies that made Bo beloved with his region's poor.
"I believe that this Chongqing Model does not exist at all," Zhang said at a meeting of Chongqing delegates to the Communist Party conclave that opened Thursday.
Bo has been accused of violations ranging from corruption to involvement in covering up his wife's murder of Briton Neil Heywood in a dispute. Zhang said he did not know when Bo would be put on trial.
The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this week that Heywood was an informant for British intelligence. Zhang said in response to a reporter's question that to date, he had not seen evidence that Heywood was a spy.
As the most powerful official in Chongqing, Bo had been considered a candidate for a seat on the party's all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee, and his toppling exposed sharp infighting in the party's uppermost ranks.
The scandal unfolded in early February after Bo's then top aide Wang Lijun fled to the U.S. consulate in Chengdu, where he told the Americans his concerns about Heywood's death. That prompted the British Embassy to request a new investigation, which uncovered that Heywood had been murdered. Bo's wife was given a suspended death sentence for the murder in August.