The Chinese Communist Party took a big step toward sealing the fate of fallen politician Bo Xilai (薄熙來) yesterday, when a court jailed his former police chief for 15 years over charges that indicated Bo tried to derail a murder inquiry.
The court in Chengdu handed down the sentence against Wang Lijun (王立軍) after finding him guilty on four charges, including seeking to cover up the murder in November last year of a British businessman, Neil Heywood, by Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai (谷開來).
The verdict ended the career of one of China’s most storied and controversial police officers and moved the party closer to a formal decision on dealing with Bo, whose downfall has shaken a leadership handover due at a party congress as early as next month.
“[Because] he [Wang Lijun] rendered a major contribution, and according to the law he can receive a lighter sentence,” the court said.
Wang could have received life imprisonment, or even a death sentence.
The relatively mild sentence, following official confirmation that Wang shared incriminating clues and that Bo beat him after Wang confronted him over the murder allegations, added weight to predictions that the party will move to jail Bo, too, said He Weifang (賀衛方), a law professor at Peking University who has closely followed the case.
“The legal net around Bo Xilai has been slowly tightening,” He said. “He’ll certainly face a criminal trial.”
Experts have offered divided views over whether the party will put Bo before a criminal court or spare him and the leadership that disgrace by simply meting out lighter disciplinary punishment within the party. Some still see that latter course as more likely.
However, before Chinese authorities can launch a criminal investigation, the party leadership must first hear the results of an internal investigation and decide whether to hand Bo over. That could happen at a leadership conclave that must take place before the bigger party congress convenes.