Police on trial for Briton’s death cover-up
Four senior Chinese police officers went on trial yesterday accused of helping the wife of one of the country’s highest-profile politicians cover up the murder of a British businessman.
The case was heard in the same court in eastern China’s Anhui province where the murder trial of Gu Kailai finished in less than a day on Thursday.
Hefei Intermediate People’s Court clerk Zhang Li confirmed that the officers’ trial was being held, but gave no details.
Gu, the wife of Bo Xilai, the disgraced former Communist Party boss of the western city of Chongqing, did not contest the charges against her, court officials said.
The decision on her and a family aide also charged with murder is expected soon. A guilty verdict is all but assured and carries potential punishments ranging from ten years in prison up to a death sentence.
The four Chongqing officers are accused of helping Gu cover up her actions during an investigation into business associate Neil Heywood’s death last November, the official Xinhua News Agency said. It named them as Guo Weiguo, a former deputy chief of Chongqing’s Public Security Bureau, Li Yang, Wang Pengfei and Wang Zhi.
Gu’s arrest and the dismissal of her husband as Chongqing party chief in March sparked the biggest political turbulence in China since the crackdown on the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. The tightly orchestrated trials this week are a step toward resolving the scandal ahead of the party’s once-in-a-decade leadership transition this fall.
One of China’s most powerful and charismatic politicians until he was ousted, Mr Bo had been considered a possible for the party’s all-powerful nine-member Standing Committee when seven new members are appointed at the fall congress.
Hefei court officials said the evidence presented against Gu showed she lured Heywood to a Chongqing hotel, got him drunk and poured poison into his mouth to kill him after they had a dispute over economic interests.
The evidence showed Gu thought Mr Heywood was a threat to her son, a recent Harvard University graduate, though the court officials did not specify the nature of the threat.
Court officials and state media have made clear that the government considers the verdict a foregone conclusion. But experts have said mitigating factors, such as Gu’s concern for her son’s safety or that she suffered mental health issues, could bring leniency.
The murder only came to light in February, when former Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun suddenly fled to a US consulate and told diplomats about his suspicions that Heywood had been murdered and that Mr Bo’s family was involved.
Wang is being detained for unspecified reasons, and a Hong Kong newspaper, the South China Morning Post, reported yesterday that he will go on trial next week in Chengdu for treason.
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