PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Cambodian police have arrested a Frenchman reportedly linked to a politician at the centre of China’s biggest political scandal in years.
Cambodian authorities informed the French Embassy in Phnom Penh of the arrest of Patrick Devillers, embassy spokeswoman Laurence Bernardi said Tuesday. She said no reason was given and the embassy was seeking an explanation from the Cambodian government.
It was unclear whether Devillers’ arrest was related to China’s ongoing investigation into Bo Xilai, the former Communist Party chief of the Chinese city of Chongqing who was dismissed in April.
Bo’s ouster came after his former police chief fled to a U.S. consulate and divulged suspicions that Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, was involved in the death last November of a British businessman, Neil Heywood.
Bo has since been subject to a wide-ranging investigation into unspecified malfeasance, while his wife has been named a suspect in Heywood’s murder.
Several businesspeople and former government officials with links to Bo have reportedly been detained for alleged corruption and abuse of power.
News reports have said that Devillers was closely linked to Bo, Gu and Heywood. It is not clear if he is accused of any crimes in China or elsewhere.
Phnom Penh police chief Gen. Touch Naruth confirmed Devillers’ arrest but declined to provide further information.
Calls to the Chinese Foreign Ministry rang unanswered Tuesday night.
Devillers, an architect, had helped Bo rebuild the northeastern Chinese city of Dalian when Bo was the city’s mayor in the 1990s, The New York Times reported last month.
The Frenchman and Gu were partners in setting up a company in Britain in 2000 to select European architects for Chinese projects and both gave the same address of an apartment in the English city of Bournemouth, the newspaper said.
It cited an unidentified friend of Devillers as saying the architect left China in 2005 and has been living in Cambodia more or less continuously for about six years.
Eric Bosc, deputy to the French Foreign Ministry’s spokesman, said Devillers was arrested June 13 and the French consul has daily visits with him but that the reason for his arrest remains unclear.
“We have told local authorities that we are attentive that no follow-up of any kind be engaged without a clearly established judicial basis,” said Bosc, who deals with French in difficulty around the world. “We have asked Cambodian authorities for clarification about the motives of his arrest.” Speaking by phone, he made no link to China, saying that only “he is detained by a sovereign country.”
China has considerable influence in Cambodia, having provided millions of dollars in aid over the past decade.
In 2009, Cambodia deported 20 members of the Uighur ethnic minority group who said they were fleeing ethnic violence in China’s far west and wanted asylum.