China politician's wife sentenced
A Chinese court sentenced the wife of disgraced Politburo member Bo Xilai to death today but suspended her execution following a scandal that has shaken the ruling Communist Party ahead of a leadership transition later this year.
The sentence means Gu Kailai is likely to face life in jail for murdering British businessman Neil Heywood last year, provided she does not commit offences in the next two years.
"The verdict is just and reflects a special respect toward the law, reality and life," Gu said of the sentence, according to a spokesman for the court, Tang Yigan.
"The court determined that Bogu Kailai is guilty of murder and sentenced her to death with a two year reprieve, with her political rights revoked for the remainder of her life," Mr Tang told reporters after the hearing in the eastern city of Hefei, referring to Gu by her formal name.
At a trial on August 9th, Gu admitted to poisoning Heywood in November, and alleged that a business dispute between them led him to threaten her son, Bo Guagua, according to official accounts published by state media.
The spokesman Mr Tang said the court had concluded that Mr Heywood made threatening words against Bo Guagua but had never acted on those words. The court also found that Gu's actions reflected a "psychological impairment", which he did not specify.
The court also said Zhang Xiaojun, an aide to the Bo household, was sentenced to nine years in prison for acting as an accomplice to the poisoning of Mr Heywood.
Gu could still face execution if she commits a new offence over the next two years. Almost invariably in China, however, such suspended sentences are commuted to long prison terms.
Four policemen were also convicted today of having sought to protect Gu from investigation, receiving jail sentences of between five and 11 years - a development that could prove damaging for Bo because it establishes formally that there was an attempted cover-up.
Gu's sentencing could be a prelude to formal punishment of Bo Xilai, a brashly ambitious politician under investigation for alleged violations of party discipline - an accusation that covers corruption, abuse of power and other misdeeds.
After the party leadership decides on those allegations, Bo Xilai could also face criminal charges related to the murder case. Mr Bo's hopes for securing a spot in China's next top leadership unravelled after his former police chief, Wang Lijun, fled to a US consulate in early February for about 24 hours and exposed the murder allegations.
Britain's embassy in China said in an e-mailed statement that it welcomed the "fact that the Chinese authorities have investigated the death of Neil Heywood and tried those they identified as responsible".