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Reports: "China's Jackie O" confesses to murder

(CBS News) There's new information in a Chinese murder mystery involving a high-profile political couple that's triggered an embarrassing crisis inside China's government.

Gu Kailai has been called the Jackie Kennedy of China - a glamorous woman who found herself in the national spotlight after marrying Bo Xilai, a member of one of China's most powerful political families.

But now, foreign media reports say that after weeks of interrogation Gu Kailai has confessed to the murder of a former close friend, British businessman Neil Heywood. According to the reports, she allegedly poisoned him after he threatened to inform authorities that she had funneled billions in dirty money overseas.

Neither she nor her husband - who was also arrested and dumped from the powerful Chinese Politburo - has been seen in public for months. They have simply disappeared - and that is how the Chinese government usually deals with scandal.

Patrick Chovanec, a professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing said, "They're detained in secret, they're investigated in secret and it's dealt with in secret."

Chovanec says it might not be so easy for the government to make the sordid case of Bo Xilai and Gu Kailai go away. "There's no way to just brush this under the rug and keep it contained," Chovanec said. "It's already in the public eye."

In fact, it's a scandal that has shaken the top levels of the Chinese government. Bo Xilai was in line to be promoted to the top tier of the Politburo. Now, Chovanec says, average Chinese citizens who deal with government corruption on the local level every day are wondering if the whole system is rotten. "The assumption was the higher you went up, the cleaner it got and that view has been really shaken."

With a once-a-decade leadership change coming this fall, Chinese leaders are determined to avoid public protests, and that might require demonstrating to the Chinese people that they are rooting out corruption - even when the alleged perpetrators are as high-ranking as Bo Xilai.

Chovanec said, "Now there's a lot of pressure on them to actually hold public trials for him and his wife who is accused of murder."

For more with Ramo, watch the video in the player below.

Author and journalist Joshua Cooper Ramo, one of the world's top experts on China, weighed in on the case Monday on "CBS This Morning." Ramo, the former foreign editor of Time magazine - now the vice-chairman of Kissinger Associates, the former Secretary of State's consulting firm - said it's going to be a while before the case is widely known in China and the way the case is revealed will be a telling moment about how the Chinese system works.

"(The case) really represents a very fundamental challenge to the party, not only in the sense of you've got a very senior leader in this position, but how do you communicate about this and talk about this? I think it highlights a larger challenge in China, which is this issue of the rule of law - which everybody from the Chinese premier has now identified as a crucial stumbling block on the continued path to reform."

If there is a public trial in China, it's thought likely that it will be announced before the government transition. But the sordid trial probably won't to happen until sometime next year.

For more on the case, watch Chip Reid's full report in the video above.


  • Chip Reid

    Chip Reid is CBS News' national correspondent.