The wife of ousted Chinese politician Bo Xilai and a family aide have been charged with the murder of a British businessman, the government says, pushing ahead a case at the centre of a messy political scandal that exposed divisions in China's leadership.

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Gu Kailai, wife of China's former Chongqing Municipality Communist Party Secretary Bo Xilai, poses for a photo in Beijing in this January 2007 file photo. (Stringer/Reuters )

The official Xinhua News Agency reported Thursday that the prosecutor's indictment said Bo's wife, Gu Kailai, had a falling out with Briton Neil Heywood over money and worried that it would threaten her and their son's safety.

Gu and the aide, Zhang Xiaojun, are alleged to have poisoned Heywood together, the report said. Heywood's death in November was attributed initially to a heart attack or excessive drinking.

They were charged in the eastern city of Hefei, Xinhua said. It did not say when exactly the indictment was issued or when the crime occurred and why the case is being prosecuted in Hefei and not in Chongqing, the metropolis Bo ran as Communist Party secretary and where the couple lived.

Prosecutors have interrogated Bo and Zhang and have "heard the opinions" of their defence lawyers, Xinhua said.

The brief report is the first official news that the case against Gu is proceeding since the announcement three months ago that she and Zhang were being investigated and that Bo was being suspended from the powerful Politburo for unspecified discipline violations. The Xinhua report did not mention Bo's case or a separate party investigation into Bo.

The scandal exposed the bare-knuckled infighting that the secretive leadership prefers to hide and affirmed an already skeptical public's dim view about corrupt dealings in the party.

Before his ouster, Bo was one of China's most powerful and charismatic politicians. The son of a revolutionary veteran, Bo was seen as a leading candidate for a position in the Politburo Standing Committee, the highest ranks of power, when a younger group of leaders is installed later this year.

On his rise, Bo led high-profile campaigns to bust organized crime and to promote communist culture. In doing so, however, his administration ran roughshod over civil liberties that angered some leaders and alienated others with his publicity seeking.