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Murder trial of Bo’s wife ends

Verdict will be delivered soon on charges against ousted Politburo member’s wife

  • Bo Xilai (right) and his wife Gu.Image Credit: REUTERS
  • Police guard outside the Intermediate People’s Court in Hefei, Anhui province yesterday. One of China’s highesImage Credit: AFP
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Hefei: China’s most politically sensitive trial in three decades ended in just about seven hours on Thursday after the wife of ousted Politburo member Bo Xilai did not contest charges of murdering a British businessman, a court official said.

A verdict will be delivered at a later date.

“The trial committee will announce the verdict after discussion. The date of the verdict will be announced. The accused [Gu] Kailai and Zhang Xiaojun did not raise objections to the facts and the charges of intentional homicide.””
-Tang Yigan | Chinese court official
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The official’s account of the closed-door hearing in the eastern Chinese city of Hefei signals that Gu Kailai and a family aide are sure to be convicted in a case that has ended her husband’s career and rocked China’s leadership.

“The trial finished this afternoon and the court adjourned,” official Tang Yigan said. “The trial committee will announce the verdict after discussion. The date of the verdict will be announced.

“The accused (Gu) Kailai and Zhang Xiaojun did not raise objections to the facts and the charges of intentional homicide.”

Gu’s trial is seen by many Chinese as part of a push against Bo, an ambitious populist who made powerful enemies as he campaigned to join the next generation of top central leaders.

Bo was formerly considered a contender for the inner sanctum of power — the party’s Politburo Standing Committee — in a once-in-a-decade leadership transition that is currently underway. The new leadership is expected to be unveiled in October.

Gu and her co-accused were charged with poisoning Briton Neil Heywood, a family friend, last year. The official said the court was told Zhang, the family aide, had put poison in a drink of water that Gu then gave to Heywood who was drunk at the time.

His body was found last November in a hotel in Chongqing, the city where Bo was the Communist Party chief.

Gu and Zhang face the death penalty if convicted. But many legal experts expect Gu will be convicted but only sentenced to a lengthy jail term.

Entry to the courtroom, in the capital of Anhui province, was restricted but two British diplomats were invited to be present because of the nationality of the victim. Journalists were not allowed in.

As the trial took place, police dragged away two Bo supporters into an unmarked car after they had appeared outside the courthouse, singing patriotic songs that were the trademark of Bo’s populist leadership style and condemning the trial as a sham.

“I don’t believe it. This case was decided well in advance,” Hu Jiye, a middle-aged man wearing a T-shirt and baseball cap, told foreign reporters at the rear of the court building, which was cordoned off by dozens of police standing in heavy rain.

Hu and his friend were then shoved by plainclothed police into a car. His companion, also a middle-aged man, struggled, yelling “Why are you taking me? Why are you taking me?”

State censorship of Internet chatter on the trial was swifter than normal yesterday, with users of China’s popular Twitter-like service Sina Weibo playing cat and mouse with censors to discuss the case, using word play to to try and get around the controls.

Gu, herself a career lawyer, was defended by a state-appointed lawyer with meagre experience in criminal cases, leaving little doubt she will be convicted.

The state has decided who will represent Gu, denying her the use of a family lawyer — a move that has also prompted Gu’s 90-year-old mother, Fan Xiucheng, to recently complain to the Justice Ministry, according to a source close to the family.

“The answer (from the ministry) was that the legal process did not have to be fully carried out in this case and that Fan should stop pestering them,” the source said.

The trial of Gu, glamorous daughter of the ruling Communist Party aristocracy, is the most sensational since the conviction of the Gang of Four more than 30 years ago for crimes during the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution.

But despite British calls for the case to be handled fairly and to unearth the truth around Heywood’s death, her defence has instead been entrusted to two provincial lawyers.

The two lawyers, Jiang Min and Zhou Yuhao, could not be reached for comment but a search of public information shows the more senior attorney, Jiang, is a specialist in financial cases and that neither has any obvious connection to the Bo family.

A newspaper profile of Jiang from 2005, which was posted on Jiang’s own website, quoted him as saying that he was “an expert in financial law, who rarely conducts criminal defences”, although he has represented some officials accused of corruption in the more than 20 years he has been practising law.

Little is known of Gu’s other lawyer, Zhou, except that he, like Jiang, is from Anhui province. Provincial capital Hefei is a bustling city more than 1,000 km east of the scene of the alleged crime — Chongqing, the vast municipality formerly ruled by Bo.