PHNOM PENH/PARIS (Reuters) - A French architect connected to China’s biggest political scandal in two decades has been arrested in Cambodia, police and diplomats said on Tuesday.
Patrick Henri Devillers, 52, is one of two Westerners in China known to have had close business ties to the family of deposed Chinese politician Bo Xilai. He also had a close personal relationship with Bo’s wife, who is accused of murdering British businessman Neil Heywood.
“There was an arrest of this French man in relation to a crime in China,” said Touch Narouth, police chief in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh. He declined to further elaborate.
The purge of Bo Xilai, the ambitious and charismatic party secretary of the inland port Chongqing, comes during a sensitive transition to the next generation of Communist Party leadership. It has laid open a world of wealth and intrigue rarely glimpsed by the Chinese public.
Neither Bo nor his wife, Gu Kailai, have been seen in public since he was stripped of his post in mid-March.
Devillers first met Bo’s wife in the 1990s in China’s northeastern port city of Dalian, where he was an architect and she was the mayor’s wife. His name was later linked with hers in business ventures in Europe.
Sources briefed on the investigation have said Heywood, who also knew Gu from Dalian in the 1990s, was murdered after he demanded too large a cut when Gu requested his help in transferring money overseas.
Devillers denied any role in money laundering in a recent interview with French newspaper Le Monde in Cambodia, where he owns a modest property.
The spokeswoman at the French embassy in Phnom Penh confirmed Devillers had been arrested.
“We are offering our consular services, are in contact with Cambodian authorities and are following the investigation,” added Bernard Valero, the Foreign Ministry spokesman in Paris, adding that Paris was seeking confirmation of why the man had been arrested.
Devillers and Gu listed the same address in the British resort town of Bournemouth in 2000 - the same year as he left his wife in China to return to Europe. Devillers and his Chinese wife divorced in 2003.
In 2006 Devillers created a Luxembourg-based company, D2 Properties, using the address of Gu’s former law partner in Beijing. D2 Properties took minority stakes in a number of boutique properties in France, Monaco, Martinique and Geneva developed by Devillers’ father, a real estate investor.
The father’s firm, Rainans Investissements, owns 2 percent of D2 Properties, according to a Rainans financial statement.
Before D2 Properties was formed, Gu and Devillers had been co-directors of a UK-based firm, Adad Ltd. Registered in 2000 and dissolved in 2003, its business purpose was unclear.
It was not immediately clear whether Devillers would be extradited to China. Cambodia has cooperated with China in past extraditions, notably the deportation of 20 Uighurs, members of a minority group in Western China, who had sought asylum from the United Nations in Phnom Penh in 2009.
Writing By Lucy Hornby; Editing by Jeremy Laurence