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Thursday, June 21, 2012

Cambodia ponders fate of Frenchman in Bo Xilai case

By Prak Chan Thul

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - A French architect embroiled in China's biggest political scandal in two decades is in custody in Cambodia where authorities are deciding whether he should be extradited to China, a senior police officer said on Wednesday.

Patrick Henri Devillers, 52, had close business ties with the family of deposed Chinese politician Bo Xilai. He also had a close personal relationship with Bo's wife, who has been named as a suspect in last November's murder of British businessman Neil Heywood.

Cambodian Deputy National Police Commissioner Sok Phal said Devillers was in detention while the authorities investigated the case.

"We don't know where we will send him to, but we have an extradition treaty with China," he said. "They asked us to arrest him, we arrested him and we can hold him for 60 days."

He declined to answer further questions. The French embassy in Phnom Penh had confirmed Devillers' arrest on Tuesday but declined comment on Wednesday.

China's Foreign Ministry was no more revealing. "I have no information about that to provide to you," spokesman Hong Lei told a daily news briefing.

China has not said publicly whether Devillers is accused of any crime. Neither Bo nor his wife, Gu Kailai, has been seen in public since mid-March, when Bo was stripped of his post as Communist Party secretary of Chongqing in southwest China.

A friend of Devillers, fellow Frenchman Dimitri Bouvet, told Reuters he had last seen him on June 13. A second friend, businessman Pierre Yves Clais, also said he thought that was the last time Devillers had been seen in public.

Clais said another friend had told him he had gone with Devillers for lunch at a restaurant in Phnom Penh with two Cambodians, a man and a woman, who were apparently interested in buying some land Devillers owned in the coastal town of Kep.

"It was a set-up: he was invited to lunch by Chinese-speaking Cambodians and then he disappeared," Clais said.

Clais described the architect as a respected figure in the French community in Phnom Penh and said he believed he had been living there for four or five years.

Last week, the head of the discipline apparatus of China's Communist Party, He Guoqiang, visited Cambodia for three days. His position makes him one of the senior officials overseeing Bo's case.

Cambodia is a close ally of China, which is a big aid donor and investor in the Southeast Asian country.
Cambodia has cooperated with China in past extraditions, notably the deportation of 20 Uighurs, members of a minority group in Western China, who had sought asylum from the United Nations in Phnom Penh in 2009.

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