Briton's family sees progress in seeking damages

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Associated Press

Posted on August 19, 2013 at 6:03 PM

Updated Monday, Aug 19 at 10:06 PM

BEIJING (AP) — The lawyer for the family of a British businessman murdered by the wife of a former high-flying Chinese politician said Tuesday that some progress has been made in efforts to seek compensation.

He Zhengsheng, a Beijing lawyer for the family of Neil Heywood, said by phone that talks with the attorneys representing the convicted killer, Gu Kailai, had brought "initial results and some consensus."

"We are making all efforts to achieve a final outcome," He said, without giving a timeframe.

Heywood's murder was at the center of China's most embarrassing political scandal in decades, with Gu's husband, Bo Xilai, dismissed from his post as Chongqing party chief and stripped of other political positions.

The former politician Bo will stand trial Thursday on charges of corruption and abuse of power. The charges appear limited in scope, apparently to secure his cooperation and minimize damage to the Communist Party's image. When Bo was expelled from the party in September, the party accused him of disciplinary violations across a much wider range than the charges that he has been handed in the trial.

Gu was given a suspended death sentence last year after confessing to poisoning Heywood. Such sentences usually are converted to long prison terms if a convict is deemed to have repented.

Meanwhile, family members of the ousted politician and his wife said this week they have not had any contact with either of the two since they were taken into custody by Chinese authorities in March last year.

Gu Dan, a sister of the wife, said by phone that the Gu family had not seen Gu Kailai since her detention last year, despite numerous requests submitted to Chinese authorities. Bo Guagua, the couple's son, said in a statement released to The New York Times that he has been denied contact with both parents for the past 18 months.

Bo Guagua appeared to respond to speculation that Gu might testify against Bo in his trial in a bid to secure their son's safety. "If my well-being has been bartered for my father's acquiescence or my mother's further cooperation, then the verdict will clearly carry no moral weight," he wrote.

One of Bo's lawyers, Wang Zhaofeng, said the defense team did not have information on whether Gu would testify.

Li Zhuang, a prominent lawyer famed for trying to defend a businessman accused of mafia activities during a crackdown led by Bo, said he thought the likelihood that Gu would testify in court was low. Prosecutors would have likely gathered enough material evidence to make such testimony unnecessary, Li said. "They've been investigating this case for so long, I'm sure they have found sufficient evidence."

The abuse of power charges against Bo appear related to events surrounding Gu's murder of Heywood, a long-time family associate.

The Heywood family's lawyer He, meanwhile, also said the Chinese government was facilitating the compensation talks. He disputed media reports that cited Heywood's mother as saying Chinese authorities had not been responsive to the family's approaches for help.

"My understanding is that his mother did not issue such a statement," he said, citing other Heywood family members whom he declined to identify.

Heywood was survived by a Chinese wife and two children, who lived in a gated community in a northern Beijing suburb and attended international schools. The wife, Wang Lulu, has not spoken publicly about the case and the family's current whereabouts were unclear.

Li Xiaolin, a lawyer with ties to Gu's mother, had previously said the Heywood family was seeking 30 million to 50 million yuan ($5 million to $8 million) in compensation.

But He, the Heywood family's attorney, refused to provide details about the amount of compensation the family was seeking.

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Associated Press reporter Isolda Morillo contributed to this report.

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