The Laundromat, a recently released Netflix film directed by Steven Soderbergh and starring Meryl Streep, Gary Oldman, Antonio Banderas, and Matthias Schoenaerts, primarily exposes the illegal and unethical activities revealed by the “Panama Papers“.
The third story in the film takes a turn to the East to depict the persecution of the spiritual movement Falun Gong and details of the Chinese government’s forced live organ harvesting from Falun Gong prisoners of conscience.
The movie depicts a last meeting between Gu Kailai, wife of Bo Xilai, then Governor of Liaoning Provincial and Communist Party Chief of Chongqing and Dalian City, and British businessman Neil Heywood, renamed Maywood in the film. In the scene, Gu and Maywood have a business dispute after which she speaks of the Wang Lijun incident that led to her husband’s downfall.
Then, in an apparent attempt to frighten Maywood, Gu tells him of their involvement in the organ harvesting from living Falun Gong practitioners. He rushes off to the bathroom to vomit in disgust at her revelations. On his return she hands him poisoned water. He dies shortly thereafter. Gu and her aide attempt to arrange the scene to look like an accidental alcohol overdose.
Subsequent scenes in the film show Bo Xilai’s corruption trial as well as Gu Kailai’s murder conviction for the poisoning their longtime British business partner.
Here is what we know of the real-life story:
In 2012, Bo Xilai was expected to rise to the Politburo Standing Committee after having built a career promoting retro-Maoist culture and vigorously following Jiang Zemin’s directives to persecute and eradicate Falun Gong.
Bo greatly expanded the prisons and labor camps in Dalian City and Liaoning Province, filling them with illegally detained Falun Gong practitioners. Investigative reporter, Ethan Gutmann, has called Liaoning province the epicenter of organ harvesting from Falun Gong practitioners during Bo’s tenure as governor there. Bo also personally approved the building of Gunther von Hagens’ plastination factory in Dalian.
It has been speculated that Bo, Gu and/or Heywood were profiting by monetizing the organs of incarcerated Falun Gong practitioners, aiding the boom in China’s lucrative transplantation industry, and by selling the corpses of Falun Gong practitioners persecuted to death to the newly built plastination factories.
Bo’s political aspirations ended abruptly after his top lieutenant and Chongqing police chief, Wang Lijun, sought, but was denied, asylum at the American consulate in Chengdu on February 6, 2012.
After a conflict with his longtime boss, Wang fled for asylum to the U.S. Consulate, supposedly to offer information about Bo and Gu’s involvement in Heywood’s murder. After leaving the Consulate, reportedly of his own free will, Wang was taken into custody by state security officials from Beijing. While local media in Chongqing later announced that he was on a mental health-related sick leave, the U.S. Department of State officials never commented on the meeting with Wang.
On 14 November 2011, Heywood was found dead in his Chongqing hotel room. Several months later, his death was ruled a homicide in which both Gu and Bo were implicated.
In August 2012, Gu Kailai was convicted of lethally poisoning Heywood and received a suspended death sentence (life in prison).
In September 2012, Wang Lijun was sentenced to fifteen years in prison after being convicted on charges of abuse of power, bribery, and defection.
In August 2013, Bo Xilai was sentenced to life in prison for bribery, abuse of power and corruption.