Sat, Aug 18, 2012 - Page 6 News List

Gu Kailai verdict set for Monday

FACING THE DEATH PENALTY:The wife of disgraced former local government official Bo Xilai is charged with poisoning 41-year-old Briton Neil Heywood after a row over money

AFP, BEIJING

A Chinese court is set to issue its verdict on Monday in the murder trial of Gu Kailai (谷開來), the wife of disgraced former Chinese Communist Party official Bo Xilai (薄熙來), a local government official said yesterday.

“On Monday, the court will reconvene, and announce the verdict and sentence,” said an official at the information office of Anhui Province, where the trial was held.

Experts say a guilty verdict is in little doubt after Chinese state media reported that Gu confessed during the hearing last week to murdering a British businessman, blaming her actions on a mental breakdown.

The killing sparked China’s biggest political scandal in years and brought down Gu’s husband, Bo, who had been tipped to become one of the ruling party’s top leaders in a 10-yearly power handover later this year.

Murder carries the death penalty in China, but experts have said Gu is likely to be spared execution and will instead serve a long prison sentence.

She is charged with poisoning Neil Heywood, a 41-year-old British man with whom she and her husband had business dealings, after a row over money.

Xinhua news agency said last week that she acted after Heywood threatened the couple’s son, Bo Guagua (薄瓜瓜) — a factor that could possibly mitigate her sentence.

Gu’s lawyer also asked the court to take into account that she cooperated with authorities by “reporting offenses by other people,” court official Tang Yigan (唐義幹) said last week.

Political analysts say the fallout from the scandal revealed deep rifts at the heart of the Chinese Communist Party and that its leaders are eager to draw a line under the controversy ahead of a power succession at the party congress in the fall.

Bo was a charismatic, but divisive official known during his tenure as party chief of the southwestern city of Chongqing for a tough anti-corruption drive and a Maoist-style “red revival” that alienated moderates.

He also flouted convention by openly lobbying for a spot in the Chinese Communist Party’s top decisionmaking body, the Politburo Standing Committee, which currently has nine members.

He has since been suspended from his post and put under investigation for “serious discipline violations,” and he has not appeared in public for months.

Bo’s downfall has been characterized as a victory for outgoing Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶), who favor economic and social reforms.

Some observers believe Bo will receive relatively mild treatment, both to appease his supporters and as a bargaining chip for his opponents in ongoing negotiations about the lineup of the next generation of leaders.

Willy Lam (林和立), a China expert at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said that if Bo faces legal charges, they might be for having known about the murder and failing to act, rather than for alleged corruption, which can carry harsher punishments.

“It’s possible that Bo might be charged with not exactly complicity, but at least offering shelter to his wife and not doing anything about it, even though he knew about the murder,” Lam said. “They might go after him for these relatively lightweight charges, but not the much heavier charges of corruption.”

Four Chongqing police officers tasked with investigating Heywood’s death admitted to covering up the murder at a separate trial at the same Hefei court the previous week, Tang said.

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