Homicide not corruption likely focus of trial
GU KAILAI, wife of purged Communist Party princeling Bo Xilai, goes on trial tomorrow for poisoning British businessman Neil Heywood. However, China’s trial of the century will be swift after a secret deal that spares her the executioner’s bullet in order to preserve the party’s grip on power.
Sources said a deal was struck a month ago where Ms Gu, once a top lawyer, will admit intentional homicide, but the trial will ignore “economic crimes” such as corruption and financial misappropriation.
The absence of economic crimes is a signal that Beijing does not intend to criminally prosecute her husband, the former Chongqing party head, who still has support from powerful factions within the party.
“They will have a very speedy trial and minimise the exposure of economic crimes. This means Bo will be left out of the criminal process and will only face punishments within the framework of party discipline,” said Joseph Cheng Yu-shek, a political scientist at Hong Kong’s City University.
A verdict in the obscure Hefei People’s Intermediate Court, in rural Anhui province is expected to come quickly.
Mr Heywood’s death in a Chongqing hotel room was initially blamed on alcohol poisoning but the authorities subsequently accused Ms Gu and an employee of poisoning him.
The manner of the case always had Ms Gu “guilty until proven guilty”, with the state news agency Xinhua announcing “the evidence is irrefutable and substantial”. Nearly everyone who goes through China’s court system is found guilty.
What now looks likely is that she will escape the death penalty and instead be given a lengthy jail sentence, which will appease the couple’s critics and political enemies without alienating their powerful supporters in the Politburo.
The pretext for not executing her is a lack of significant evidence.
According to prosecution sources quoted by the South China Morning Post, the only physical evidence prosecutors had was a piece of Mr Heywood’s heart removed by former Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun before his body was hastily cremated in November. No autopsy was carried out. The sources described Ms Gu as “gracious” and “relaxed” during questioning, which could mean she has reached a deal that provides the best outcome for her family.
Mr Bo’s hubris, the arrogant way he wielded power in Chongqing and his dangerously popular charisma, set him on a collision course with President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao.
The party wants to keep any forms of destabilising disruption to a minimum, especially with a leadership transition looming at the 18th Communist Party congress in the autumn. Nerves in Zhongnanhai, the power stronghold at Beijing’s heart, have been jangled by broader stability issues over pollution and the slowing economy.
From the Chinese authorities’ point of view, the deal is beneficial because it separates the case from the party congress and the leadership succession process.
The party’s leaders have gathered in Beidaihe, a holiday resort on the coast near Beijing, for its annual round of political horse trading.