Like Icarus, he was the man who flew too close to the sun. In this case that sun was the princeling Bo Xilai, and the man who fell to earth was businessman Xu Ming.
However, for those hoping there were any more revelations yet to emerge about the tycoon’s crooked relationship with Bo, those hopes looks to have ended last Friday when it emerged Xu had died – aged just 44 – of a heart condition while in prison.
Xu was detained in early 2012 at the same time as Bo was purged, and later testified in both the trials of Bo’s wife (found guilty of murdering a British businessman) and Bo himself. In the case of the latter, Xu turned up and admitted he’d paid Rmb21 million ($3.25 million) in bribes to Bo. Among the salacious details were a house he’d purchased for the Bo family in France and his bankrolling of Bo junior’s foreign education.
Xu built his Dalian-based conglomerate Shide up with the help of Bo, who was both mayor of that northeastern city and then governor of the province Liaoning in which Dalian is located. Thanks to Bo, Shide got access to choice pieces of land and government contracts, and even bought the city’s football team. At one stage he was estimated to be China’s eighth richest man, says the BBC, worth Rmb14 billion.
But his fate was entwined with that of his boss, and his fall from grace was swift. That said, he got a more lenient sentence: while Bo got a life term, Xu was due to be released from his cell next year. That is, until his unexpected heart attack ended the possibility of his walking free. That’s led some netizens to question the suspicious timing of his death. Indeed, it is not clear whether there was even a post-mortem.
Sohu Finance contacted some of Xu’s former executives at Shide and they said they’d never heard that he had any heart problems – though he was overweight. They added that they were surprised to hear he’d been cremated so swiftly (within two days of the heart failure).
One blogger speculated that Xu retained a dangerous amount of knowledge about the nefarious nexus that exists between businessmen in China and senior officials. His connections went beyond Bo and as high as Zhou Yongkang, the disgraced former security tsar and an ex-Standing Committee member of the ruling Politburo. The same netizen adds that the size of the bribes mentioned in anti-graft trials held so far were small, compared to informal estimates of more than Rmb1 trillion in corruption that has occurred in recent years. Few would have been better placed than Xu to cite bigger figures and perhaps bring down some major business tycoons with new claims.
But though Tencent’s news website first broke the story, it did not suggest there was any evidence of foul play.
Local journalists are among those disappointed that Xu will take to the grave so many secrets and unanswered questions. One issue reporters had hoped to quiz him on (after his release) was the exact status of the villa in France. He’d claimed in court it belonged to the Bo family, and if that were so the Global Times had proclaimed it should be confiscated by the Chinese state. However, the Chinese courts were unable to recover the property which was sold for $8.5 million last year. Who pocketed the money remains a mystery.
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