x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Leniency for former police chief in murder cover-up

Former police chief helped cover up murder of British businessman Neil Heywood, however he later agreed to co-operate with authorities.

Former police chief Wang Lijun, at the heart of China's biggest political uproar in decades, did not contest charges against him at his court hearing.
Former police chief Wang Lijun, at the heart of China's biggest political uproar in decades, did not contest charges against him at his court hearing.

CHENGDU, China // China signalled yesterday that it will be lenient with a former police chief embroiled in a political scandal involving the country's leadership, saying he co-operated with investigators who brought down a top Chinese politician's wife for the murder of a British businessman.

Wang Lijun's trial ended yesterday without a verdict after two sessions that were closed to foreign media. Afterwards, a spokesman said Mr Wang initially covered up the murder of the Briton, Neil Heywood.

However, the spokesman added that Mr Wang, 52, turned himself in and provided information to investigators that led to a murder conviction against Heywood's business associate Gu Kailai, the wife of Chongqing Communist Party chief Bo Xilai. She received a suspended death sentence.

The proceedings bring Chinese leaders a step closer to resolving the scandal that exposed seamy infighting and buffeted a delicate transfer of power to new leaders expected to take place next month.

The trial summary described Mr Wang's role in covering up the murder last year, saying that he "knew perfectly well" that Gu was under "serious suspicion" for the crime all along. It said that although he helped cover it up, both the prosecutors and defence lawyers agreed he later co-operated with authorities.

The emphasis in the court's statement on Mr Wang's cooperation suggests authorities may give him a lighter sentence. In its summary, the court said three times that Mr Wang's cooperation and his surrender may merit lighter punishments.

The crimes he faces are generally punishable by up to 10 years in prison with a 20-year maximum for consecutive sentences, though sentencing guidelines allow for life imprisonment or the death penalty in egregious cases.

The scandal erupted after Mr Wang fled to the United States consulate in Chengdu in February with information that Heywood, whose death in November was initially ruled as either from excessive drinking or a heart attack, was murdered and that Gu was a suspect. After a 33-hour stay at the consulate, Mr Wang gave himself up to Chinese authorities.

Absent in the trial summary was any mention of Mr Bo, Wang's longtime boss and Gu's husband. Bo was removed as Chongqing's chief and suspended from the Politburo and his fate remains the thorniest issue his colleagues must still resolve.

The scandal would have stayed under wraps but for Mr Wang's disclosure to US diplomats. Following British demands for a full investigation, Chinese leaders were forced to make public scandalous details that it would have preferred to keep private, further staining the Communist Party's soiled public image.

The fallout saw the Chinese leadership devote energies to damage control just as they were engaging in tricky back-channel politicking to choose the country's next generation of leaders.

Leaders must decide whether to expel Mr Bo from the party and prosecute him, and differences are believed to have delayed announcing dates for a party congress to install the new leadership.

In the trial, Mr Wang "did not raise objections" to the charges of defection, abuse of power and taking bribes, and the court found him to be in "good health and stable mood", said the court spokesman, Yang Yuquan.

While prosecutors argued that as a high-ranking official in possession of state secrets Mr Wang's defecting was a serious crime, they and his lawyer also said that he surrendered to authorities, Mr Yang said. Once in custody, Mr Wang related his suspicions about Bo's wife - referred to in court documents as Bogu Kailai. Mr Wang also provided information that helped in investigating other people, who were not identified.

Mr Wang "took the initiative to expose the Bogu Kailai murder case to relevant departments and made an important contribution to the solving of the case," Mr Yang quoted Mr Wang's lawyer as telling the court.