x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

Bo Xilai's wife pleads guilty to murder

No sentence given after the one-day trial of Gu Gailia, wife of the Communist Party's star, in the poisoning death of British businessman.

Gu Kailai (second from left), the wife of ousted Chinese Communist Party member, Bo Xilai, and Zhang Xiaojun (second from right), are escorted into the court room for trial at Hefei Intermediate People's Court.
Gu Kailai (second from left), the wife of ousted Chinese Communist Party member, Bo Xilai, and Zhang Xiaojun (second from right), are escorted into the court room for trial at Hefei Intermediate People's Court.

BEIJING // The trial of Gu Kailai, accused of murdering a British businessman, began and ended yesterday at a court in eastern China, although there is no word yet on when a verdict will be announced.

With Ms Gu, the wife of the former top Communist Party official Bo Xilai, having admitted her guilt to the court in Hefei city, the question is not whether she will be convicted of killing Neil Heywood, but what punishment will be handed down.

Also accused with Ms Gu,53, is a family aide, Zhang Xiaojun, 33, who is said to have brought Heywood to Chongqing, where Mr Bo was then the communist party secretary, for a fateful meeting with Ms Gu.

"When Heywood was drunk and vomited and wanted to drink water, [Ms Gu] then took pre-prepared poison that she had asked Zhang Xiaojun to carry and poured it into Heywood's mouth, killing him," Tang Yigan, a court official, was quoted by media as saying.

Court officials yesterday said the two accused "did not raise objections to the facts and the charge of intentional homicide".

State television showed Ms Gu, wearing a black trouser suit and white shirt, being led in by two uniformed women and standing alone in a small dock. Two uniformed men led Mr Zhang, who wore a white t-shirt and dark trousers, to a separate dock. Foreign reporters were denied entry, although British consular officials attended.

Yesterday afternoon, Mr Tang told journalists that the trial was over and that the court had adjourned with a verdict due at an unspecified date.

"The court will, during the adjournment, seriously and thoroughly consider the evidence, take into consideration the arguments of both sides, and according to facts and the law," he said.

"The trial committee will announce the verdict after discussion. The date of the verdict will be announced."

Each is likely to be jailed for at least 10 years and the death penalty is also a possibility, although it is seen as unlikely that Ms Gu will be executed.

One person in court told foreign media that when Ms Gu, herself a lawyer, addressed the court, she asked for Mr Zhang to receive a lighter sentence.

Ms Gu's lawyers have alleged that Heywood threatened her son, Bo Guagua, although reports have also suggested that they had disputes over "economic interests".

Heywood was a longstanding business contact of the Bo family dating from the 1990s, when Mr Bo was based in the city of Dalian.

Also likely to be taken into account as mitigation is evidence presented in court that Ms Gu, who has suffered from depression, was in a fragile mental state when she poisoned Heywood.

This could also help the Communist Party paint the case as being the result of the actions of one unstable individual and her aide, rather than being linked to wider corruption issues.

There have been suggestions in foreign media that Heywood had threatened to reveal to others that Ms Gu had transferred large sums of money overseas, a potentially embarrassing revelation that would highlight the way that families of some senior Chinese officials have been able to accrue vast wealth through corruption.

There was heavy security around the court for the trial, which forms part of the biggest political scandal to hit China for decades.

Two supporters of Mr Bo who protested near the courthouse and sang Communist Party songs of the kind the former Chongqing boss promoted while he was in power, were said to have been dragged away by police and driven off.

Mr Bo had been set for promotion to China's all-powerful politburo standing committee during a leadership transition due to begin later this year.

Things started to fall apart for him in February when his police chief, Wang Lijun, fled to the US consulate in Chengdu and apparently revealed details of Heywood's death and attempts by Mr Bo to cover up the killing.

A month later, Mr Bo was removed as party secretary in Chongqing and in April was stripped of his membership of China's politburo amid allegations of corruption.

Mr Bo has not been seen in public since March and may be prosecuted once the party disciplinary process for his alleged "severe discipline violations" is completed.

dbardsley@thenational.ae

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