Saturday, August 18, 2012

Verdict due Monday in Chinese murder trial

BEIJING ? A court is expected to issue a verdict Monday in the murder trial of Gu Kailai, the wife of a prominent politician, who's reported to have all but confessed to killing a British businessman during what prosecutors say was a dispute over money.

The case, replete with international intrigue and accusations of betrayal and an official cover-up, upended the career of Gu's ambitious husband, Bo Xilai, and shook the ruling Communist Party as it prepares for a politically delicate transfer of power to a new generation of leaders.

Zhang Mingwu, vice director of the Anhui province government information office, confirmed a verdict would be announced Monday morning by the Hefei Intermediate People's Court.

Gu was tried Aug. 9 by the court along with a trusted family aide, both of whom are accused in the poisoning death of the Briton, Neil Heywood, in a hotel room in Chongqing, the municipality run by Bo until he was deposed in March.

During the trial, which lasted one day, Gu acknowledged she got Heywood drunk on whiskey in November and then poured poison into his mouth after he became sick and asked for water, according to an account of the trial released by the official Xinhua News Service.

Gu, the account said, plotted to kill her longtime friend and business associate because she feared he would harm her son if he did not receive the $22 million he claimed were owed to him from a failed real estate deal.

Her government-appointed lawyers have also said Gu suffered from mental illness. The official account hasn't been independently corroborated and some analysts have questioned some of the details released by Xinhua. The British government has declined to comment on the trial.

Legal experts do agree on one thing: Gu will be found guilty but will probably escape execution; her accomplice, Zhang Xiaojun, will probably be treated more leniently given that Gu acknowledged having procured and administered the poison, a commercially available product used to exterminate animals.

A day after Gu's trial, four police officials from Chongqing were tried in the same court on charges that they helped cover up the crime. No verdict has been announced.

With Gu's case over, party leaders are expected to begin tackling the other, more politically sensitive aspects of the scandal.

The next figure to go on trial will be Wang Lijun, the former Chongqing police chief who briefly sought refuge in the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu last February and reportedly divulged incriminating details of the murder to U.S. officials.

Wang, who was said to have feared Bo's wrath, voluntarily departed the consulate in the custody of officials from Beijing. He's expected to be tried on a variety of charges, including treason.


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