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British businessman Neil Heywood poses for a photograph at a gallery in Beijing, in this handout picture dated April 12, 2011.
By Matt Falloon and Adrian Croft
Mon Apr 16, 2012 4:33pm EDT
LONDON (Reuters) - Prime Minister David Cameron is expected to discuss the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood in China with a visiting senior Chinese official, an aide said on Monday, as the British government faced questions over its handling of the affair.
"It's likely to come up," a spokeswoman for Cameron said when asked about the prime minister's talks on Tuesday with Li Changchun, China's propaganda chief and a member of China's most powerful leadership body, the nine-member Politburo Standing Committee.
Li is the most senior Chinese official to visit Britain since the announcement by Chinese authorities this month that the wife of Bo Xilai, a former high-flying Communist Party chief of China's southwestern Chongqing city, is a suspect in the murder of Heywood.
The 41-year-old was found dead in a hotel room in the city last November.
The death ended Bo's hopes of emerging as a top central leader and sparked political upheaval in China.
Heywood was poisoned after he threatened to expose a plan by Bo's wife, Gu Kailai, to move money abroad, two sources with knowledge of the police investigation of the affair said.
China's official Xinhua news agency said last week that Chinese police had set up a team to reinvestigate his death.
In his talks with Li, Cameron "will welcome the investigation that's ongoing and look forward to seeing the outcome of that, but we are pleased to see it has started," Cameron's spokeswoman said.
Cameron said last week Britain was ready to cooperate in any way it could in China's investigation of the death but it was unclear if he would offer any specific help to Li on Tuesday.
The scandal comes at a time when Cameron's coalition government is trying to build closer trade and investment ties with China to help boost Britain's stuttering economy.
Britain's foreign ministry, which asked China to investigate Heywood's death only three months after the event, is facing growing questions over its handling of the affair.
Chongqing police initially attributed Heywood's death to a cardiac arrest due to over-consumption of alcohol, though his family said he was not a heavy drinker.
"The fundamental question is why it took so long for the British authorities to start questioning the explanation," said Menzies Campbell, a member of parliament for the Liberal Democrats, who rule in coalition with Cameron's Conservatives.
"There is a British businessman with what were well-known high-level political and commercial connections who dies suddenly in a hotel bedroom and is cremated almost immediately. I would have thought that those circumstances would at the very least have triggered an inquiry," he told the BBC.
Foreign Secretary William Hague is expected to face questions about the case when he appears in parliament on Tuesday.
The Foreign Office minister responsible for China, Jeremy Browne, met Bo during a visit to Chongqing on November 16 last year, the same day China told British consular officials of Heywood's death. However, a Foreign Office official said Browne was unaware of his death at that time.
"Ministers were informed of the case in February 2012. As soon as we had serious concerns we told ministers and the family, and then, on ministerial instructions, approached the Chinese," a Foreign Office spokeswoman said.
Foreign Office officials had raised the issue repeatedly with Chinese officials since then, she said.
"We became more concerned from the suggestions from the business community and we asked the Chinese authorities to launch an investigation. We acted as soon as we thought the case justified it," Cameron's spokeswoman said.
(Editing by Stephen Addison and Andrew Osborn)
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