Mystery deepens over Briton's death in China

BEIJING - A British businessman whose death in China last year has prompted calls by London for a probe had done work for a secretive strategic-intelligence firm, according to the company.

Neil Heywood died in the southwestern city of Chongqing, a sprawling metropolis at the heart of China's biggest political drama in years after its leader was removed earlier this month.

"Neil had a long history of advising Western companies in China and we were among those who sought his advice," a spokesman for London-based Hakluyt & Company told AFP by telephone on Tuesday.

"We are greatly saddened by his death," he said, but declined further comment.

Hakluyt's website lists only the name, address and phone number of the company and its branches.

British media has previously reported the company was set up and staffed by former members of British spy agency MI6.

There have been rumours that Heywood was linked to Bo Xilai - a prominent Chinese politician who was sacked in March as party chief of Chongqing, in a dramatic event still shrouded in mystery.

The British government has called for an investigation into Heywood's death amid speculation of suspicious circumstances.

"Some time after the death of Neil Heywood we became aware of speculation about aspects of the case that may warrant further investigation," John Gallagher, spokesman for the British embassy in Beijing, told AFP on Monday.

Bo was ousted just weeks after Wang Lijun - his former police chief and right-hand man - fled to a US consulate and reportedly demanded political asylum, in what was a major embarrassment for the ruling Communist Party.

Wang has since been placed under investigation, but the reasons behind his reported attempted defection are still unclear.

Bo was a rising party star and until his sacking, the 62-year-old was widely touted as a favourite to join the country's most powerful decision-making body during a key leadership transition later this year.

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