PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - A Frenchman held in Cambodia because of alleged links to China’s biggest political scandal in two decades has flown to China, where he is wanted as a witness in the case, Cambodia’s information minister said on Wednesday.
Patrick Henri Devillers, 52, was detained last month in Cambodia, where he had been living for several years.
He was held at the behest of Beijing because of his suspected business links to the wife of deposed Chinese politician Bo Xilai, Cambodian authorities have said.
Information Minister Khieu Kanharith told reporters Devillers, an architect, had taken a flight from Cambodia to China late on Tuesday and that he had left of his own free will, without an escort from the French embassy.
“He voluntarily went as a witness,” he said. China had promised Devillers would only be needed for up to 60 days before being allowed to return, he added.
Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, has been named by China as a suspect in the murder last November of British businessman Neil Heywood. Both Heywood and Devillers were known to be close to her.
France’s foreign ministry said Devillers had assured staff at its embassy in Cambodia he was going to China voluntarily.
“Mr Devillers told us several times, after consulting with his lawyer as we requested, that he wanted to voluntarily travel to China to cooperate with Chinese justice,” a ministry spokesman said.
“He told our ambassador he had received certain guarantees from Chinese authorities,” he added.
Devillers has lived in Cambodia for at least five years, according to friends. He entered Bo’s inner circle while living in Dalian in the 1990s when Bo, who was mayor of the city at the time, helped him chase up an unpaid debt.
China has not accused Devillers of any crime.
Bo was stripped of his post as Communist Party secretary of Chongqing in southwest China in March.
China is Cambodia’s biggest political and economic ally, pumping hundreds of millions of dollars of aid, loans and investment into the impoverished country in recent years.
Reporting by Prak Chan Thul; Writing by Alan Raybould; Editing by Martin Petty and Andrew Heavens