The woman at the center of China’s most politically explosive trial in three decades yesterday did not contest charges of murder in a hearing that lasted just seven hours and could determine the fate of former Politburo member Bo Xilai (薄熙來).
A formal verdict will be delivered at a later date, a court official said, recounting details of the closed-door hearing.
Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai (谷開來), chose not to contest the charge of murdering British businessman Neil Heywood, whose alleged secretive dealings with the couple fueled a scandal exposing the intimate nexus between money and power in China’s elite.
The dramatic account of Heywood’s death by poisoning is also likely to sound the final death knell to Bo’s political career, even as sympathizers cast him as the victim of a push to oust him and discredit his left-leaning agenda.
“The accused Bogu [Gu] Kailai and Zhang Xiaojun (張曉軍) did not raise objections to the accusations of intentional homicide,” the official, Tang Yigan (唐義幹), said after the hearing, referring also to Gu’s co-accused, an aide to the family.
State television showed Gu, wearing a dark pantsuit and a white shirt, being led into the courtroom and being seated in the dock. She appeared to have put on weight since she was detained earlier this year.
The court official quoted prosecutors as saying Gu and Zhang had killed Heywood with a poisoned drink in Chongqing in November, after a business dispute between Gu and Heywood. Bo ruled the vast municipality until he was sacked in March, just before the murder scandal burst into the open.
As a result of the dispute with Heywood, Gu had become convinced Heywood was a threat to her son, Bo Guagua (薄瓜瓜), the official said without elaborating.
“Gu Kailai believed that Neil Heywood had threatened the personal safety of her son Bo [Guagua] and decided to kill him,” the official added, reading from a statement to a packed news conference of dozens of reporters who had been barred entry to the courtroom in the city of Hefei.
The aide, Zhang, had driven Heywood to Chongqing in November from Beijing and prepared a poison which was to be put later into a drink of water. Later that day, Heywood met Gu at a hotel, he became drunk and then asked for water.
“She poured a poison into his mouth,” the official said.
Gu and Zhang face the death penalty if convicted. However, many legal experts expect Gu will be convicted, but only sentenced to a lengthy jail term, citing her desire to protect her son, who graduated from Harvard University this year, as a mitigating factor.
Gu’s state-appointed lawyer told the court yesterday that Heywood himself had some “responsibility in the matter,” the court official said, adding that a Heywood family representative had voiced respect for the court during the hearing.
In London, family members declined to comment on the case.
Britain’s Foreign Office also declined to comment until the outcome of the case. It said two British diplomats had attended the trial “to observe the proceedings and fulfill consular responsibilities to the Heywood family,” a spokesman said.