Politician's wife spared death for killing executive

Tue, Aug 21, 2012, 01:00

GU KAILAI, the wife of disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai, has been given a suspended death sentence after confessing to killing British businessman Neil Heywood, in a verdict aimed at stopping any damaging political fallout affecting the ruling Communist Party.

In a line straight out of a show trial script, Gu told the court yesterday: “The verdict is just and reflects a special respect toward the law, reality and life.”

Foreign media were barred from the trial in remote Hefei, in eastern China, and, as far as the Communist Party is concerned, it closes one chapter of China’s biggest political crisis in two decades.

Attention now turns to the fate of Gu’s husband, Bo Xilai, who was purged in March as the powerful Communist Party boss of the major city of Chongqing.

Mr Bo may now avoid criminal charges and instead face internal party disciplinary censure. The political career of the charming, ruthless and ambitious son of a revolutionary may well be over.

Gu admitted poisoning former business partner Mr Heywood with cyanide after a dispute with him over money in which he allegedly threatened her son, Bo Guagua. Many believe she took the fall for her husband and son, whose high-spending party lifestyle at Oxford and Harvard has angered many ordinary Chinese.

The process was always about competing politburo factions jockeying for power in the world’s most populous nation, as tensions grow ahead of a power transition at the 18th Communist Party congress during the autumn.

Gu was accused of luring Mr Heywood to a Chongqing hotel, getting him drunk enough to vomit, then pouring cyanide into his mouth. Speculation that his death might have been more than a heart attack after a night of heavy drinking intensified in February when Chongqing police chief and Mr Bo’s right-hand man, Wang Lijun, turned up at the US consulate 170 miles away in Chengdu, apparently offering evidence about the death.

He Zhengsheng, a lawyer for the Heywoods, said the family respected the court’s ruling.

Beijing-based rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang said the verdict ignored legal rules that would have required the death penalty, given that Gu had admitted to committing intentional homicide.

“I have not seen the written judgment yet, but based on my knowledge of the law, I can’t see the reasons for reducing the penalty against her,” Mr Pu said. “This is a political, individual case. This is not a court judgment based on law.”

A suspended sentence is usually commuted to life in prison after two years and, given the way Gu emphasised her mental illness during the trial, the way is open for medical parole.

Sentenced along with Gu was a family aide, Zhang Xiaojun, who was given nine years imprisonment for his involvement in the murder of Mr Heywood.

On Weibo, China’s version of the banned Twitter service, people were angry that a senior official could get away with murder without being executed. Chongshikongxu wrote: “This explains why people want to be an official. The bigger you are, the less likely to do, even if you murder someone.”

San Francisco-based human rights group Dui Hua said it believed Gu could serve only nine years in prison.


GU KAILAI, who yesterday avoided the executioner’s bullet for murdering British businessman Neil Heywood by apparently making a deal with the authorities, is a smart, tough lawyer.

While she is most likely taking the blame to save her family, she is unlikely to win much sympathy among ordinary Chinese people.

At the National People’s Congress, her husband Bo Xilai characterised her as a quiet homemaker, but to many in China she was Lady Macbeth to her ruthlessly scheming other half.

She seems to have believed in tough justice herself and once wrote: “We don’t play with words and we adhere to the principle of ‘based on facts’ – you will be arrested, sentenced and executed as long as we determine that you killed someone.” Not a rule that she applied to herself, clearly.

Like her husband, she was a communist blueblood, but like many children of the elite, she had been forced to work manually during the Cultural Revolution.

She is believed to have suffered from panic attacks and reports throughout the investigation into Mr Heywood’s death have said she was suffering from paranoia and “psychological impairment”.