China murder case verdict seen in weeks: lawyer

Agence France-Presse
A verdict in the murder of a British man allegedly by the wife of Chinese politician Bo Xilai could come before the end of the month

BEIJING, China – A verdict in the murder of a British man allegedly by the wife of Chinese politician Bo Xilai could come before the end of the month, a lawyer involved in the case said Sunday, August 12.

Bo’s wife Gu Kailai and an accomplice were tried on Thursday for poisoning Neil Heywood, allegedly after her son fell out with the businessman in a dispute over a land project.

Li Xiaolin, a lawyer for another person accused in the case, Zhang Xiaojun, said the court in the eastern city of Hefei has not said when it might issue a ruling, but speculated it could be within weeks.

“I have no idea when Gu’s verdict will come out. The court won’t tell us,” Li told AFP. “Maybe before the end of August. Nobody knows for sure though.”

Heywood’s murder and allegations of a cover-up sparked the biggest political scandal in China for years and led to the downfall of Bo, who had been tipped to become one of the ruling Communist Party’s top leaders.

It also exposed deep divisions among China’s rulers ahead of a sensitive 10-yearly handover of power later this year, and observers say the party is keen to swiftly draw a line under the controversy.

Legal experts say Gu is likely to be spared execution, though she could be given the death penalty which would then be commuted to life in jail.

“This is a case which cuts to the heart of core issues of leadership transition and political power at the top,” said Carl Minzner, an expert in Chinese law and governance at Fordham University School of Law.

“Such cases have always been decided way in advance,” he told AFP.

In a lengthy report released through China’s official Xinhua news agency on Friday, Gu admitted guilt and blamed her actions on a mental breakdown over fears Heywood had threatened her son.

The court heard Heywood had demanded 13 million pounds ($20 million), and sent Bo Guagua an email threatening “you will be destroyed”, a source who attended the hearing, who requested anonymity, told AFP.

Minzner said the state media account appeared to be aimed at both justifying a possible decision to avoid the death penalty and explaining the murder of one of its nationals to the British government.

“They’re attempting to construct a narrative for the domestic Chinese audience. If she’s not going to get the death penalty, then you need to explain why.”

Four Chongqing police officers tasked with investigating Heywood’s death admitted to covering up the murder at a separate trial at the Hefei court on Friday, a court official said.

Hong Kong media has reported that former Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun, who reportedly gave details about the crime when he fled to a US consulate, would also face trial for treason within days.

The South China Morning Post said Wang could be tried at a court in the southwestern city of Chengdu, where he fled in February before leaving the consulate and surrendering to Chinese authorities.

Court officials in Chengdu could not be reached for comment on Sunday. – Agence France-Presse

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