x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

China charges police chief central to Bo scandal

Authorities may want to limit the case they will eventually bring against Bo Xilai, who was removed as party secretary when Wang Lijun told American consular officials Bo's wife had killed a British businessman and her husband had tried to stop an investigation into the killing.

BEIJING // This week's announcement that charges are being levelled against Wang Lijun, Chongqing's former police chief, has led to a flurry of speculation over what is likely to happen to his former boss, the disgraced politician Bo Xilai.

It is no surprise Mr Wang is being prosecuted after he fled to the US Consulate in Chengdu in February, a trip that led to the downfall of Mr Bo, former Communist party secretary in the southwestern municipality of Chongqing, and his wife, Gu Kailai.

Yet analysts believe it is significant that among the four charges Mr Wang faces - taking bribes, bending the law for his own gain, defection and abuse of power - there is no mention of Mr Bo.

This may suggest the authorities want to limit the case they will eventually bring against Mr Bo who was removed as party secretary when Mr Wang told American consular officials that Gu had killed a British businessman and her husband had tried to stop an investigation into the killing.

"These are quite difficult tea leaves to read … [but] there's no implication in terms of Bo Xilai with regard to any of these activities," said Barry Sautman, an associate professor and China political analyst at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

"If the government was going to level similarly serious charges against Bo Xilai, he probably would have been mentioned in relation to the charges against Wang Lijun."

With state media having reported prosecutors as saying evidence against Mr Wang, 52, is "concrete and abundant", a conviction is almost guaranteed.

Taking bribes could result in a death sentence, but Bo Zhiyue, author of China's Elite Politics, said execution was unlikely.

"My guess is probably life imprisonment or 15 years or more," he said.

The scandal surrounding Mr Bo, 63, has been one of the biggest talking points in Chinese politics for years ahead of a once-in-a-decade leadership transition due to begin later this year.

In Chongqing, the ambitious Mr Bo attracted attention for a Communist Party nostalgia campaign, efforts to promote equality and provide public housing, and an uncompromising crackdown on organised crime.

His loyal lieutenant and enforcer during the crackdown, chillingly known as the "smash the black" campaign, was Mr Wang. Among those who fell foul was Chongqing's judicial chief, Wen Qiang, who was executed in July 2010.

Although popular with the public, the crackdown was tarnished by allegations that suspects were tortured and Mr Bo was targeting political opponents among the business community and stealing their fortunes.

It fell apart in February when Mr Wang clashed with Mr Bo, was demoted, and then fled to the US Consulate and told officials Gu had poisoned the businessman Neil Heywood in November and that Mr Bo had stopped the death from being investigated.

After a one-day trial last month, Gu was given a suspended death sentence for her role in the death of Heywood, a long-standing Bo family business associate.

According to the Xinhua news agency, Mr Wang initially covered-up the killing, leading to his being accused of bending the law for personal gain.

The defection charge stems from his flight to the US Consulate, while the abuse of power accusation is linked to alleged illegal surveillance, with top leaders from Beijing among those he is said to have spied on. He also allegedly accepted "massive bribes".

Although the 52-year-old Mr Wang spearheaded the "smash the black" initiative, the charges are not linked to the campaign

"I don't think they're going to go back and say this whole campaign was wrong. Then they would have the problem of how to redo what Bo Xilai and Wang Lijun have done in Chongqing and that would be more complicated," said Bo Zhiyue.

Absent from public view since March, Mr Bo could face criminal charges once party disciplinary procedures are completed. That he is not mentioned in the charges against Mr Wang could however bode well for Mr Bo.

"This leads me to guess Bo Xilai actually won't be sentenced to a long period of imprisonment and may not be sentenced to imprisonment at all," said Mr Sautman.

 

dbardsley@thenational.ae