The downfall of Bo Xilai (R) and his wife Gu Kailai (L) has become one of China's most closely-watched scandals.

Story highlights

Court finds Gu Kailai guilty of murdering Neil Heywood and gives her suspended death sentence

Sentence likely commuted to life in prison if Gu does not commit crimes during two-year reprieve

Family aide Zhang Xiaojun also found guilty and sentenced to nine years in prison

British embassy welcomes suspended death sentence

CNN  — 

The downfall of senior Communist Party “princeling” Bo Xilai has become one of the most closely watched political scandals in China. Culminating in a suspended death sentence for a murder charge against his wife, Gu Kailai, the veritable soap opera offers a glimpse into the workings of the highest echelons of the Chinese government, which is preparing for a once-in-a-decade leadership transition this fall.

November 14, 2011

Briton Neil Heywood is found dead in a hotel room in Chongqing, a municipality in southwestern China. Authorities later rule the cause of death was alcohol poisoning, and his body is cremated. Heywood had been working as a business consultant in China for more than a decade. His death did not receive widespread attention until rumors of Bo Xilai’s alleged involvement arose in February.

February 6, 2012

Bo’s right-hand man, Chongqing police chief and deputy mayor, Wang Lijun flees to the U.S. consulate in Chengdu. He stays one night before leaving “of his own volition” with Chinese security forces, according to the U.S. State Department. Wang has not been seen in public since. The Chongqing government releases a statement saying Wang has gone on medical leave for stress.

March 9, 2012

At the annual National People’s Congress meeting, Bo speaks out at a press conference, dismissing the allegations against him and his family as “sheer rubbish.” “A few people have been pouring filth on Chongqing and me and my family,” he said, rejecting Western media reports that his son drove a Ferrari.

March 15, 2012

The state-run Xinhua news service announces that Bo Xilai has been stripped of his post as party secretary of Chongqing.

March 26, 2012

The British Foreign Office confirms that in February it formally requested China to open a new inquiry in Heywood’s death. In response to speculation that Heywood was working as a spy in China, British Foreign Secretary William Hague later announces that Heywood “was not an employee of the British Government in any capacity.”

April 10, 2012

Xinhua announces that Gu Kailai and family employee Zhang Xiaojun have been “transferred to judicial authorities on [the] suspected crime of intentional homicide.” The same day, Xinhua reports that Bo has been suspended of his membership in the party’s Politburo and the Central Committee– the nation’s ruling bodies– because of suspected “serious breach of regulations.”

April 24, 2012

A graduate student at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, Bo Xilai’s son, Bo Guagua, makes his first public statement in the university’s newspaper. The 24-year-old denies rumors that he was living a playboy lifestyle while studying abroad but declines to comment on the ongoing investigation into his parents.

June 13, 2012

A French architect believed to be a close associate of Gu Kailai, Patrick Devillers, is arrested at his home by local police in Phnom Penh at China’s request. Cambodian police later say that Devillers, 52, flew from Cambodia to China on July 17 of his own accord to assist Chinese authorities with their investigation into Gu. Devillers has denied any wrongdoing.

July 26, 2012

Gu Kailai and family employee Zhang Xiaojun are charged with “intentional homicide” and will be prosecuted in the Hefei municipal court in Anhui province, according to Xinhua. It’s not clear whether Gu and Zhang have yet entered a plea because the legal proceedings have so far been behind closed doors. Meanwhile, Bo and the two suspects in the case have been kept out of the public eye since March and are unreachable for comment.

August 20, 2012

Following a one-day trial on August 9, the court delivered a guilty verdict for Gu Kailai in the murder in the death of Neil Heywood. It gave her a suspended death sentence, which is expected to be commuted to life in prison if Gu does not commit crimes during a two-year reprieve. Family aide Zhang Xiaojun was also found guilty in Heywood’s death and sentenced to nine years in prison.