The billionaire Chinese business tycoon who paid former rising Communist Party political star Bo Xilai millions in bribes has died in prison, state media reported Monday.

Xu Ming, the chief accuser at the fallen Chongqing party chief’s trial, probably died of a “sudden heart attack”, the official Xinhua news service said, despite being only 44.

Xu Ming and Bo Xilai. Photo: Wikicommons.

State media described Xu as the founder of conglomerate Shide Group and former chairman of Chinese football champions Dalian Shide, but acknowledged his central role in one of the country’s most lurid political episodes of recent decades.

The politician, whose wife was convicted of killing a British businessman, was accused of accepting almost $3.5 million in bribes from Xu, who also provided the family with funds for a French villa. Bo was jailed for life for graft in 2013.

Xu got his start selling prawns, before founding Shide Group in the early 1990s, building it into a national conglomerate with interests in everything from construction and petrochemicals to sport.

His close ties to Bo’s family allegedly helped him to expand his business empire and grow his personal fortune to over a billion dollars and made him, at one time, the eighth richest person in China.

He purchased China’s then most successful football team in 2000 and renamed it after his company.

The club was left in financial limbo after his detention and played its last game in 2012 before being acquired by the Aerbin Group.

Xu was due for release in September 2016 but died on Friday, Xinhua said, without specifying his exact conviction or sentence.

“He continued to have a high degree of interest in football,” the report said, adding that he fell into “despair” upon learning that his former team was performing poorly.

“His honour and shame will both follow his ashes eternally into the grave,” it said.

AFP is a global news agency delivering fast, in-depth coverage of the events shaping our world from wars and conflicts to politics, sports, entertainment and the latest breakthroughs in health, science and technology.