China pressed ahead with an offensive against former Chinese Communist Party Chongqing secretary Bo Xilai (薄熙來) on Friday, a day after the murder trial of his wife, with a separate prosecution of four police officers accused of trying to cover up the killing she is accused of.
The dismissed officers went on trial for “bending the law to show favoritism” by shielding Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai (谷開來), from an inquiry into the death of Briton Neil Heywood.
Gu stood trial for poisoning the businessman over a financial transaction that went sour, according to a court statement. She did not dispute the murder charge during Thursday’s seven-hour, closed-door trial hearing and a verdict will soon be delivered, the statement said.
Heywood’s death in November last year and its alleged cover-up in Bo’s stronghold of Chongqing, the southwestern municipality he ran, was central to the torrent of events that toppled him from the Chinese Communist Party’s politburo and exposed the party to its worst upheaval in decades.
The party’s priority now is ensuring top-down control before a handover of power to a new generation of leaders this year.
The legal noose is tightening fast on Bo’s wife and police involved in investigating the murder, suggesting there is a danger Bo could himself face charges of masterminding a cover-up and could risk a lengthy jail term.
The South China Morning Post yesterday said that former Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun (王立軍) would stand trial as early as next week in the southwestern city of Chengdu. Wang sought temporary refuge in Chengdu’s US consulate in February after sources said he told Bo that Gu was a murder suspect.
Wang’s dramatic flight to the US mission triggered the murder scandal that quickly led to Bo’s downfall. Until then, Heywood’s death had been officially attributed to a possible heart attack brought on by excessive alcohol consumption.
Bo, 63, has not been a focus of the proceedings so far. Yet most experts believe the trial and almost certain conviction of his wife Gu and the four police officers is a prelude to his punishment, which could include a criminal trial.
The court in the eastern Chinese city Hefei did not say when it would announce any verdict against Gu. However, the usual wait is about a two weeks, said Chen Guangwu (陳光武), a criminal defense attorney who has followed the scandal closely.
“But they won’t delay for too long, because this case is being heard to pave the way for dealing with Bo Xilai himself,” said Chen, who is based in Shandong Province. “This case is in part about testing the waters for that. That is, they will sentence her and see what reaction there is in society and public opinion.”
Bo’s downfall has stirred more public division than that of any other party leader for more than 30 years. To leftist supporters, Bo became a charismatic rallying figure for efforts to reimpose party control over dizzying and unequal market growth. To liberal critics, Bo was a dangerous opportunist who yearned to impose his harsh policies on the entire country.
As the four fired officers went on trial, also in Hefei, Chinese police cordoned off the courthouse and excluded foreign reporters.
A court spokeswoman said the case would start at 8:30am.
“It’s open to the public, but I’m afraid all the places are full at this time,” she said.