BEIJING (Reuters) - The family of a British citizen murdered in China, whose death triggered the nation’s biggest political scandals in decades, is seeking compensation of up to $8.2 million from his convicted killer, the wife of former top leader Bo Xilai, a lawyer with knowledge of the talks said on Monday.
Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, was jailed for life last year for the poisoning of British businessman Neil Heywood in a case that also led to a corruption probe into Bo, once a candidate for China’s top leadership team.
It is customary for a murderer to be ordered to pay court-sanctioned compensation to the victim’s family.
A source close to the family said Heywood’s Chinese widow, Lulu, had been pushing for compensation for herself and their two young children from Gu. Lulu and the children are believed to be still living in Beijing.
Li Xiaolin, a lawyer who has represented Gu’s family in the past, said Heywood’s family was seeking between 30 million and 50 million yuan ($8.17 million) in compensation.
“The talks started last year, but have not reached any agreement yet that I know of,” Li told Reuters. “Gu Kailai has no money herself.”
Money was not being sought from Bo though as he was not mentioned in the verdict for Gu’s case, Li said.
“Talks are continuing,” Li added, saying it was a colleague of his who was involved in the talks.
Bo was sacked as Communist Party chief of the southwestern city of Chongqing last year when his wife was named as an official suspect in the November 2011 murder of Heywood, a long-time friend of the couple who also helped their son, Bo Guagua, settle into study in Britain.
Bo is now awaiting trial on charges of corruption, taking bribes and of bending the law.
The government originally implicated Bo in helping to cover up Heywood’s murder, but the legal indictment issued last month made no mention of that and it is unclear if the case will be included in his trial, likely to start this month.
The British Embassy in Beijing said it had passed on the family’s concerns about a lack of progress on the compensation request to the Chinese government.
“We’ve made the Chinese authorities, through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, aware of the family’s concerns on several occasions since the trial, most recently twice during July,” said an embassy spokesman, who did not elaborate.
‘SURPRISED AND DISAPPOINTED’
Heywood’s mother, Ann Heywood, in a statement to the Wall Street Journal, said there had been no progress on seeking compensation.
“Given the circumstances of Neil’s murder, I have been surprised and disappointed that, despite repeated discreet approaches to the Chinese authorities, there has been no substantive or practical response,” she said.
She urged China to show “decisiveness and compassion” to ease the effects of his death on the family, especially his two children, the newspaper added.
China’s Foreign Ministry did not respond to a request for comment.
Chinese law stipulates that victims of crime can seek compensation from those convicted of crimes, but does not lay out monetary benchmarks, which are generally decided by the courts depending on ability to pay and the nature of the crime.
While assets ordered confiscated by courts can be used for compensation, Gu’s verdict - as relayed by official state media - made no mention of asset confiscation.
“Compensation should have been decided upon at the time of Gu Kailai’s trial, but it appears it was not. This is very strange,” said Pu Zhiqiang, a prominent human rights lawyer.
“The government can compel the sale of assets to pay compensation,” which for murder cases was generally several hundred thousand yuan, he added.
Lawyer Li said though that it was not unusual for compensation talks to continue after a verdict is reached.
However, for such a sensitive case as this, the upper echelons of ruling Communist Party would have to sign off on a compensation deal, making any court involvement moot.
“Decisions about this case have to be made single-handedly by the Communist Party’s top leaders. It’s not for a court or the government to decide,” said He Weifang, a law professor at Peking University who has closely followed Bo’s downfall.
Bo, 64, was widely seen as pursuing a powerful spot in the party’s top decision-making body before his career unraveled after his former police chief, Wang Lijun, fled to a U.S. consulate for more than 24 hours in February last year and alleged that Bo’s wife had killed Heywood.
At her trial in August of last year, Gu admitted to poisoning Heywood, saying that she had acted after he had threatened her son, Bo Guagua, when a business deal turned sour, according to official accounts published by state media.
Editing by Nick Macfie