US forensic expert linked to China death inquiry
BEIJING – A prominent American forensic scientist said Wednesday that Chinese police asked him to analyze an unidentified blood sample, in a possible link to a spiraling political scandal in which a senior official was sacked amid allegations that his wife murdered a British man.
Henry Lee said police did not directly ask for help investigating the death of Neil Heywood, whose body was found in the southwestern Chinese city of Chongqing. The wife of the city's Communist Party chief has been named a suspect in Heywood's death.
Lee, who spoke to The Associated Press from his office in Connecticut, has worked on thousands of criminal cases around the world including the O.J. Simpson murder case, war crimes in Bosnia and Croatia and a review of the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy.
Lee said he was asked by Chongqing police in early February for help in testing a blood sample for drugs or poison. He said he was told it came from someone who died after drinking wine but was given no other details about the victim or cause of death. The sample never arrived.
Authorities in China initially said Heywood died from either excess drinking or a heart attack. His body was cremated without an autopsy. If blood or tissue samples were taken from Heywood's body, it would have a major impact on the case.
Lee, a fluent Chinese speaker, is a longtime professional acquaintance of Chongqing's former chief of police, Wang Lijun, who visited a U.S. consulate near Chongqing on Feb. 6 to raise concerns about Heywood's case. After leaving the consulate, Wang was taken into custody by Chinese authorities and hasn't been heard from since.
Lee said he wasn't sure of the name of the officer who approached him but it was not Wang.
"I recall in February, we received a request from the Chongqing police department," Lee said. "The request was basically (that) they have some sample and want to do an analysis of the sample and the sample they tell me is a blood sample. ... They basically want to know if there's any drugs or poison in there."
He was never told the identity of the victim and didn't ask.
"We don't ask who is the victim or who is the suspect," he said. "A forensic scientist doesn't care who the victim is. Whatever the sample, we analyze (it) and we give you a result."
Lee said DNA tests could confirm if the blood came from Heywood and tests on the blood might be able to determine a cause of death.
Lee said he met Wang more than 25 years ago in Japan and last saw him in October at a conference in Chongqing where Lee was the keynote speaker. Lee recalled that Wang hosted a dinner for him.
Heywood had close ties to Bo Xilai, a Chinese political high-flier whose career has been derailed by the death. Bo was removed as Chongqing's Communist Party secretary on March 15 and has been suspended as a Politburo member amid questions over whether he tried to abuse his power to quash an investigation of his wife and a household employee over Heywood's death.
Chinese authorities have opened a new investigation and named Bo's wife Gu Kailai a suspect in Heywood's death.