China in dock as wife of former city boss finally goes on trial
The wife of a fallen Chinese leader goes on trial tomorrow charged with murdering British businessman Neil Heywood in a case seen largely as a bid by Beijing to brush a corruption scandal under the carpet.
Gu Kailai is the wife of former Chongqing city boss Bo Xilai and her prosecution is being seen as a way for the existing Communist party leadership to control a major political scandal.
“The men at the top have already made their decisions, and in conspicuous political trials like this, that’s where the decision is made,” said Perry Link, a Princeton University emeritus professor of East Asian studies. “So the trial, whatever the results and whatever the arguments, will be theatre, just theatre.”
The scandal has drawn attention to infighting at a time when Beijing is preparing for a once-a-decade transition that will install a new generation of leaders. Until his fall, Mr Bo was a contender for a top job.
Key among the leadership’s main objectives in Gu’s trial is to keep the focus tightly on the murder case and not on allegations of corruption. Beijing will closely orchestrate publicity to try to convince the domestic audience that the trial has been fair and the international community that justice has been served.
“It’s pretty clear that to be part of this ruling power elite in China lets people get very, very rich. And Bo Xilai and Gu Kailai are only one example of that power,” Mr Link said. “It’s that big pattern that makes the party so nervous about this case.”
Gu and a household aide, Zhang Xiaojun, are accused of poisoning Mr Heywood, a long-time associate of the Bo family, in November in the southwestern city of Chongqing, where Mr Bo was party chief until this spring. In announcing her indictment, the official Xinhua News Agency has said she had a falling out with Mr Heywood over money and worried that her son’s safety was threatened.
Xinhua made clear the government considers the verdict a foregone conclusion.
“The facts of the two defendants’ crime are clear, and the evidence irrefutable,” the report said. If convicted, Gu and Zhang face punishment ranging from more than ten years’ jail to a life sentence or the death penalty.
Cheng Li, a Chinese elite politics expert said a severe sentence might make Gu seem a scapegoat for the sins of her husband. If Zhang is sentenced to death but not Gu, it could be construed as class bias: “That would sound like the princelings’ lives are far more valuable than others’,” he said. Gu is the daughter of a prominent Communist, hence her princeling status.
Gu and Zhang will be defended by government lawyers. Mr Heywood was said to be helping the family shift large sums overseas, a detail ignored by Xinhua.
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