© The Financial Times Ltd 2014 FT and 'Financial Times' are trademarks of The Financial Times Ltd.
Last updated: July 18, 2012 4:30 pm
A French architect linked to the family of disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai has flown to China where he is set to be questioned by the Communist authorities over his business links to Mr Bo and his wife.
The French foreign ministry said Patrick Devillers, who is under consular protection by Paris, had voluntarily agreed to travel to China to co-operate with the Chinese judiciary. He had been detained in Phnom Penh by Cambodian authorities since June 13.
“He told our ambassador that he had obtained a certain number of guarantees from the Chinese authorities,” said the ministry said on Wednesday, without giving further details.
Mr Devillers left Phnom Penh on a late night flight to Shanghai on Tuesday, according to a reporter from the Cambodia Daily who was shown his check-in details.
China wants Mr Devillers to help its investigation into Mr Bo, the former Communist party boss of the vast western city of Chongqing purged from the senior leadership ranks this year.
Like Neil Heywood, the British businessman whose death Mr Bo’s wife Gu Kailai has been linked to by Chinese authorities, Mr Devillers was close to the Bo family. An investigation by the Financial Times found that Mr Devillers played an important role in securing at least part of the family’s jet-setting life, including the purchase of luxury apartments in London.
“France was not party to the discussions that took place in Phnom Penh between Mr Devillers and the Chinese authorities,” said the foreign ministry. “We therefore have no comment on them. Mr Devillers will continue to benefit from the full consular protection of our embassy in Beijing.”
Mr Devillers had lived in Cambodia for more than five years and has children with a Cambodian partner.
Khieu Sopheak, the Cambodian interior ministry spokesman, said last week Mr Devillers was willing to go to China to assist authorities there with their investigation.
However, some government officials privately told western business sources in Phnom Penh that there was a lot of negotiation between the French government and the Chinese to persuade Mr Devillers to go. They suggested that certain guarantees had been negotiated, including for Mr Devillers’ safety.
No reporters have been able to talk to him since his arrest and detention.
China’s ruling Communist party has said Mr Bo is being investigated for alleged “severe discipline violations”, a phrase often used to refer to corruption, and party sources said investigators were looking at funds the couple had gained illegally and transferred abroad.
When Cambodian authorities first arrested Mr Devillers last month, they said China had asked for his extradition – a process which in most legal systems can only be started for an individual charged with a crime.
The Chinese foreign ministry did not respond to a request for comment.
A lawyer in Phnom Penh said the case illustrated the struggle between France and China for influence in Cambodia. “The crux of the matter was really about how badly the Chinese wanted him. France is an important country for Cambodia, but the Chinese can trump them – if they so desire.”
The French ministry said: “In the framework of this consular protection, we have made sure that Mr Devillers’ rights would be respected. In particular, we have ensured that he has been able to choose his own lawyer and to receive from his lawyer the appropriate advice regarding his situation.
“Mr Devillers told us several times, including after consulting with his lawyer as we had asked, of his wish to voluntarily go to China to collaborate with Chinese justice.”
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2014. You may share using our article tools.
Please don't cut articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.