A Chinese billionaire with ties to disgraced former leader, Bo Xilai, of the Communist Party died of a heart attack Friday while in prison, according to Chinese media.
Xu Ming, founder of the Dalian Shide Group, died at the age of 44 while being held at a prison in the central city of Wuhan, according to the Beijing Youth Daily newspaper.
A prison official, however, told the Financial Times that he had not heard of Xu and that prisons don’t normally announce the deaths of inmates.
Xu, whom in 2005 was named by Forbes as China’s eighth-richest man, grew his business in Dalian while Bo Xilai was mayor there between 1993 and 2001.
Bo went on to become the Communist Party chief of the southwestern city of Chongqing and Xu’s company expanded to include finance, plastics and property.
Both mens’ successes were hampered in 2011, when they became key figures in a scandal involving the death of British businessman Neil Heywood at the hands of Bo’s wife Gu Kailai.
Bo’s wife was given a suspended death sentence in 2012.
Bo was fired from his position with the Communist Party that year after Chongqing’s police chief retreated to a U.S. consulate where he expressed suspicions about Heywood’s death. According to sources familiar with the situation, Xu was detained soon after the chief voiced his concerns.
During Bo’s trial in 2013, Xu testified that he provided Bo’s wife with $3.1 million for a villa in Southern France. He also said he had funded the lifestyle of one of Bo’s sons with money that covered a trip to Africa, a two-wheeled electric vehicle and other expenses.
Bo denied having known about any of the alleged transactions. He eventually was convicted of abusing power, embezzlement, and taking up to $3.1 million in bribes from Xu and others. He’s facing a life sentence.
Chinese authorities, however, never announced if Xu was charged with any crimes or whether he was tried and convicted. His last public appearance was at Bo’s trial in 2013.
Some find his death odd.
Lin Lefeng, a former general manager of the soccer team owned by Dalian Shide, was quoted by the Beijing Youth Daily as saying, “In the past, we’ve never heard of Xu Ming having this illness. So everyone feels this is rather sudden.”