A brief Chinese-language report by China’s official press agency Xinhua News Agency on July 26 stated that Gu Kailai, the wife of ousted Chinese politician and “princeling” Bo Xilai, has been charged with the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood. The report is the first official news of the case proceeding since the investigation announcement three months ago.

According to a Reuters report, Shen Zhigeng, a partner at Beijing-based Zong Heng Law Firm, has been retained by Gu’s family as defense lawyer. Shen told Reuters that trial dates are likely to be on August 7 or 8, and that Gu and Zhang could face the death penalty.

Xinhua reported that the prosecutor’s indictment said that Gu, 53, fell out with Heywood, 41, over “conflicts of economic interests.” She allegedly worried that the soured relationship would threaten the safety of herself and her son Bo Guagua. As a result of that, prosecutors claim that Gu, along with her assistant Zhang Xiaojun, poisoned Heywood, whose death last year was first attributed to heart failure or excessive drinking.

Both Gu and Zhang were charged in the eastern city of Hefei, far from Chongqing, where Heywood was allegedly killed. Bo was not named as a suspect in the murder case. The Washington Post reported that Zhang’s wife has retained counsel for him, but did not name the lawyer. According to the Post, neither of the defendants has been able to meet with the counsel hired by their families.

The Xinhua report, which did not indicate the indictment or hearing dates, stated that prosecutors have interrogated Bo and Zhang and have “heard the opinions” of their defense lawyers.

A lawyer at Zong Heng, who did not want to identify himself, declined to comment on whether or not Shen was representing Gu. Shen was not available for comment and did not respond to emails by press time.

Email: jseah@alm.com