The Chinese politician's wife suspected of the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood has links to a £40 million property empire in Europe.
|Gu Kailai and Bo Xilai and the British businessman Neil Heywood|
By Jason Lewis, Investigations Editor, Harriet Alexander in Lyon and David Eimer in Dalian7:30AM BST 06 May 2012
Gu Kailai's personal office in Beijing is the base for a highly profitable firm run by the mysterious French businessman, Patrick Henri Devillers, who is at the centre of her affairs.
The company, registered in Luxembourg, a secretive tax haven, has millions of Euros invested in a series of property companies mainly based in France.
The disclosure raises new questions about Mrs Gu's business interests amid allegations that Mr Heywood, a long time associate of Mrs Gu and her husband Bo Xilai, was secretly helping the couple move huge sums of money out of China.
Mrs Gu is accused of ordering the cyanide-assisted killing of 41-year-old Old Harrovian Mr Heywood after he allegedly threatened to reveal his secret role as the couple's middleman in a series of money laundering deals.
His suspicious death created shock waves in Britain and in China and ended the gilded political career of Mr Bo, the Communist leader of the city of Chongqing.
Last week The Sunday Telegraph revealed how Mrs Gu, Mr Heywood and architect Mr Devillers were involved in a £600,000 deal to buy a hot air balloon from a Dorset-based company during which she allegedly suggested paying an extra £200,000 to cover her son's fees at Harrow public school.
But its was Mr Devillers who appeared to be a central figure in Mrs Gu's dealings. The pair set up a UK-based firm together and it was the Frenchman, who she introduced as her "middle man", who apparently signed contracts on her behalf.
Now it can be disclosed that for the last five years Mr Devillers has been running a lucrative property business from her personal office.
The firm, D2 Properties S.a.r.l, registered in Luxembourg, which in 2009 was put on G20's "grey list" of countries with "questionable banking arrangements", has large stakes in a series of property firms.
The 51-year-old Frenchman, whose whereabouts are unknown, claimed to be living at the address, an apartment in the Asian Games Village, overlooking the "Bird's Nest" Olympic Stadium in Beijing.
He has used the address on all official filings to the Luxembourg authorities connected with the firm since it was set up in 2006 and it is listed as his "home" on its most recent accounts, dated 12 October 2011 - a month before Mr Heywood's death.
But the address is also listed as the office of Horus L. Kai, the name used as an alias by Mrs Gu in dealings with Western businessman, and the original name of her law practice, which is now known as Ang Dao. The address was printed her personal business cards and registered with the Beijing Lawyer's Association, the official body overseeing legal practices in the Chinese capital.
D2 Properties is highly lucrative. Its most recent accounts reveal it had a turnover of more than £630,000 last year and profits of £135,000 in the last two years.
The money is generated through stakes in ten French property firms which controls at least £35 million worth of rental property, "real estate" and other developments in France.
According to documents registered with the Luxembourg authorities D2 is run by Mr Devillers, who also owns the majority stake in the firm. The rest of the shares are controlled by a French investment firm, Rainans Investissement SAS, run by Mr Devillers' father Michel from the family home near Lyon.
The French firm controls a vast property and development business empire worth at least £40 million.
While Mr Heywood is believed to have met the powerful Chinese couple after being hired to teach their son English, how and when Mr Devillers met Mrs Gu, and his involvement with her and Mr Heywood, are shrouded in mystery.
In November 1990 newly qualified architect Mr Devillers, who was born in Besancon, near France's border with Switzerland in 1960, married a Chinese musician, Guan Jie, in Lyon.
At first the couple lived in the city in an apartment on the fashionable Quai Claude Bernard on the banks of the Rhone. But in December 1992 the couple's son Alexis was born and, a short time later, the young family moved to Guan Jie's home city of Dalian.
Guan Jie, who specialises in playing the Guzheng, a traditional Chinese string instrument, toured the country and also travelled extensively abroad giving concerts.
What Mr Devillers was doing at this time is unclear, he apparently began to follow the traditional Chinese Taoist faith, and it is also likely that during this period he met Mrs Gu and her husband Bo Xilai, who by 1993 was mayor of Dalian.
Mr Devillers' wife's family was part of the Chinese Communist Party elite. Her great uncle was Guan Xiangying, a hero of the revolution and a leading member of the politburo, who, on his death in 1946, had a eulogy written in his memory by Mao Zedong.
Chairman Mao wrote: "Loyal and devoted to the party and the country, comrade Guan Xiangying lives forever." A large statue of him still stands in Dalian today.
This family connection would have allowed Mr Devillers' access to the elite of Chinese society and is probably how he first gained access to Mr Bo and his wife, and began working on a series of mysterious business deals with Mrs Gu. Mr Bo's own father, Bo Yibo, was a leading revolutionary and a politburo member at the same time as Guan Xiangying.
Several people in Britain who met Mrs Gu and Mr Devillers in the late 1990s suggested that were "very close".
By 2003 the Devillers' marriage had broken down and the couple divorced in the Dalian district of Shahekou on 31 July.
Reluctant to talk in detail, she would only say: "It is in the past," when asked about her husband and the politician's wife.
"We split up because I wanted to stay in Dalian to look after my parents," she said. "My mother is not very well and misses me very much when I am away."
She said that she had no idea where her former husband lived now and that they had not had any contact for several years.
"I raised my son alone. He has no contact with his father. Now, he has a new Chinese father," said Guan, who refused to say if she had remarried.
Using the metaphor of "a cake being cut in half" to describe their split, she added: "Patrick is a good guy, a man who understands art and artists. He's a Taoist. I have no contact with him and I don't know where he is, that's the truth. I'm not the sort of person to stay in touch."
Asked about Neil Heywood, she refused to say if she had ever met him or whether her ex-husband had mentioned him. She added: "Everyone has heard of what happened to Neil Heywood. It's a pity."
Last week no one would answer the door at the Ang Dao office where both Patrick Devillers and Mrs Gu were based, in a Beijing apartment block.
Last month staff told The Sunday Telegraph that they had not seen Mr Devillers for three years. The boss of the firm, who gave his name only as Mr Li, said he was a friend of Mr Devillers and that he used to come to the office, but had not seen or heard from him for a "long time".
A Beijing lawyer who works in the complex where the Ang Dao law firm is located said yesterday: "The manager has been arrested and the firm has been shut down. It has been de-listed from the China Law Association. There's a great fear amongst lawyers who have had dealings with this firm. Many people connected with it have been arrested."
Last night Stephane Biver, a Luxembourg lawyer acting for D2 Properties and Patrick Devillers, said he could not answer questions about the business or its links to China. He said: "Our law firm is under strict professional secrecy and is therefore not allowed to disclose any kind of information about clients."
Michel Devillers failed to respond to faxes and emails sent to his business last week.
Additional reporting Patrick Sawer and Josie Ensor