The UK Foreign Secretary William Hague has denied claims that British businessman Neil Heywood – who may have been murdered in China last November – was a spy.
In a letter to the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Mr Hague said that while it was "long established government policy neither to confirm nor deny speculation" about individuals and intelligence service matters, it was appropriate in this case given press reports positing that Heywood may have worked for British foreign intelligence or passed on information to the UK secret services, The Daily Telegraph reports.
"Given the intense interest in this case it is, exceptionally, appropriate for me to confirm that Mr Heywood was not an employee of the British Government in any capacity,” Hague wrote.
Heywood was “only an occasional contact” of the British embassy in Beijing where he attended “some meetings in connections with his business,” the foreign secretary insisted, according to The Independent.
"We acted to seek an investigation as soon as we judged that concerns about the circumstances of Mr Heywood's death justified it, and we are pleased that the Chinese are now investigating."
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Chinese authorities have launched a murder investigation into Heywood’s death after the 41-year-old businessman’s body was found in a hotel in the south-western city of Chongqing on November 15, according to the BBC.
Local officials initially said the cause of death was excessive drinking. Gu Kailai, the wife of disgraced communist party leader Bo Xilai, is currently being held over the incident.
Hague’s letter was written in response to UK lawmakers who requested that the foreign secretary clarify any connections Heywood may have had with British intelligence.
More from GlobalPost: China purges the internet of content related to the scandal