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Mystery surrounds ‘low-profile’ Frenchman in China case

June 21, 2012

PHNOM PENH: A Frenchman connected to disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai kept a low profile in the weeks before his arrest in Cambodia, acquaintances said yesterday, as mystery surrounded his role in the drama.

Patrick Devillers (left), a 52-year-old architect, was detained in Phnom Penh earlier this month for committing unspecified offences in China, Cambodian police said.

They also said China was seeking his extradition although the Chinese foreign ministry refused to confirm or deny yesterday that Beijing had made such a request.

The arrest is believed to be linked to Devillers’ close ties with Bo and his wife Gu Kailai, central figures in China’s biggest political scandal in decades.

Bo, the former leader of the southwestern Chinese megacity of Chongqing, is being probed for corruption while Gu has been detained for suspected involvement in the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood last year.

Cambodian officials remained tight-lipped about the case yesterday while neighbours and friends in Phnom Penh said the Frenchman had not been seen much in recent weeks.

“He was probably keeping a low profile because he saw the storm coming,” said an acquaintance who did not wish to be named.

“I strongly doubt whether that storm is justified,” he added. “I see Patrick as a subtle, almost poetic, creative person who found himself caught in a Chinese tangle because of his enthusiasm.”

A security guard who works at a furniture store opposite Devillers’ two-storey house described seeing two vehicles carrying five police officers and two foreigners drive up to the property about two weeks ago.

“I saw that they took him away,” the 18-year-old said, adding that Devillers was not handcuffed. “That was the last time I saw him.”

Devillers’ connection to the Bo family drama remains unclear but in an interview with French daily Le Monde last month he denied allegations of any wrongdoing.

His elderly father Michel Devillers told British newspaper The Daily Telegraph at his home in France that his son’s arrest had come as a shock.

“I spoke to my son 10 days ago and he appeared perfectly calm,” he was quoted as saying.

“He had no idea he was in danger of being arrested, as he had intended to come to France for a trip over the summer. My aim is to have him repatriated to France. I will be speaking with a French consular contact in Cambodia tomorrow, and I intend to fly to Cambodia as soon as possible.”

The French embassy said Devillers was receiving consular assistance and France was seeking “clarification” over the reason for his arrest.

In Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters he had “no information on this case” when repeatedly asked about the arrest of Devillers.

Hong refused to say whether the extradition of Devillers was brought up during a visit to Cambodia last week by top Chinese leader He Guoqiang, who heads the ruling Communist Party’s internal disciplinary organ and reportedly is heading up the investigation into Bo.

China and Cambodia signed an extradition treaty in 2000 that covers “all crimes committed on Chinese territory” and apparently includes foreign nationals.

– AFP


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