Who's who in China's Bo Xilai political scandal

By The Associated Press | August 20, 2012 | 10:39 AM EDT

FILE - In this Jan. 17, 2007 file photo, Gu Kailai, left, wife of then Chinaese Commerce Minister Bo Xilai, right, attends a memorial ceremony for Bo's father Bo Yibo, a late revolutionary leader considered one of communist China's founding fathers, at a military hospital in Beijing. The wife of a disgraced Chinese politician was given a suspended death sentence Monday, Aug. 20, 2012, after confessing to killing a British businessman by poisoning him with cyanide in a case that rocked the country's top political leadership. A suspended sentence is usually commuted to life in prison after several years. (AP Photo/Alexander F. Yuan, File)

The scandal surrounding one of China's most high-profile politicians, Bo Xilai, whose wife has been given a suspended death sentence for the murder of a British man, is the messiest to strike the ruling Communist Party in years and exposes divisions just ahead of a crucial leadership transition in the fall. Here's a look at the leading characters:

— Bo Xilai: Disgraced former Communist Party secretary of Chongqing and one of the country's most prominent political figures. A former Commerce Minister and the son of one of the communist state's founding fathers, Bo was already in the party's 25-member Politburo and before the scandal was seen as a contender for the nine-member Standing Committee that runs China. Bo's flamboyant personality made him a polarizing figure among elites. Rumors had also swirled about the Bo family's wealth. He remains under a separate party investigation for unspecified wrongdoings.

— Gu Kailai: Bo's wife has been given a suspended death sentence — which is usually commuted to life in prison after two years — for killing British businessman Neil Heywood. State media said she confessed to poisoning him following a dispute over money and was worried that he had threatened her son's safety. She is said to have risen out of a trying childhood during nationwide upheaval to become a prominent lawyer and high-flying politician's wife. She was skilled at turning on the charm when the going was smooth, yet quick to turn hostile when crossed. Like Bo, she is the offspring of a prominent Chinese politician.

— Bo Guagua: Their 24-year-old son, who was educated in England and the United States, most recently at Harvard University. Guagua, who has appeared shirtless at parties in photos posted on the Internet, has said he attended social events as an Oxford University undergraduate to broaden his perspective. He denies accusations he received preferential treatment in admissions, that he was a poor student or that he drove a pricey sports car. Guagua is not believed to have returned to China since the scandal broke and his whereabouts are unknown.

— Wang Lijun: Wang was Chongqing's police chief before being demoted in February. He spent a night at the U.S. consulate in the city of Chengdu near Chongqing, apparently fearing for his life. He refused Bo's demands that he return to Chongqing and was instead taken into custody by investigators from the State Security Ministry. While in the consulate, Wang is believed to have alleged that Gu was behind Heywood's death, prompting the British government to ask China to launch a new investigation. In a surprising twist, people who attended the trial say the court heard evidence that Gu had informed Wang of her intentions and that for a time he too participated in planning the murder. Four of his former officers were sentenced to between five and 11 years in prison for helping cover up Gu's crime. Swirling rumors that Wang could face trial soon have yet to be confirmed.

— Neil Heywood: A British business consultant and Bo family friend, his body was found in a secluded Chongqing hotel last November. Chinese authorities originally blamed his death on excess drinking or a heart attack and his body was cremated without an autopsy. Subsequently, an official Chinese statement said he had a longtime business relationship with Gu and her son, Guagua, but that had deteriorated over financial disputes. Bo reportedly sought to block a police investigation after Wang came to him with his suspicions.

— Zhang Xiaojun: State media have referred to Zhang as a Bo family aide and a former Chongqing city staffer. Zhang has been sentenced to nine years' imprisonment for being an accessory to Heywood's murder. Under Gu's orders, he is said to have escorted the Briton from Beijing to Chongqing and carried the poison that Gu gave him.

— Patrick Devillers. A French architect, he was detained in Cambodia in connection with the scandal but not extradited. Instead he chose to fly to China on his own, apparently in order to give evidence in the case. Devillers 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 in April. Peter Giles Hall, a British businessman who had done business with Gu, says Devillers and Gu appeared to be romantically involved and he had seen him holding her hand.