WORLD NEWS TOMORROW – CHINA– The woman at the centre of China’s most politically explosive trial in three decades did not contest charges of murder yesterday in a hearing that lasted just seven hours and could determine the fate of former Politburo member Bo Xilai. A formal verdict will be delivered at a later date, a court official said, recounting details of the closed-door hearing.
Mr Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, chose not to contest the charge of murdering British businessman Neil Heywood whose alleged secretive dealings with the couple fuelled a scandal exposing the intimate nexus between money and power in China’s elite.The dramatic account of Mr Heywood’s death by poisoning is also likely to sound the final death knell to Mr Bo’s political career, even as sympathisers cast him as the victim of a push to oust him and discredit his left-leaning agenda.
“The accused Bogu (Gu) Kailai and Zhang Xiaojun did not raise objections to the accusations of intentional homicide,” the official, Tang Yigan, said after the hearing, referring also to Ms Gu’s co-accused, an aide to the family.
State TV showed Ms Gu, wearing a dark trouser suit and a white shirt, being led into the courtroom and being seated in the dock. She appeared to have put on weight since she was detained earlier this year.The court official quoted prosecutors as saying Ms Gu and Mr Zhang had killed Mr Heywood with a poisoned drink in far southwestern Chongqing last November, after a business dispute between Ms Gu and Mr Heywood. Mr Bo ruled the vast municipality until he was sacked in March just before the murder scandal burst into the open.
As a result of the dispute with Mr Heywood, Ms Gu had become convinced Mr Heywood was a threat to her son, Bo Guagua, the official said without elaborating. “Gu Kailai believed that Neil Heywood had threatened the personal safety of her son Bo (Guagua) and decided to kill him,” the official added, reading from a statement to a packed news conference of dozens of reporters who had been barred entry to the courtroom in the eastern city of Hefei.The aide, Mr Zhang, had driven Mr Heywood to Chongqing last November from Beijing and prepared a poison which was to be put later into a drink of water. Later that day, Mr Heywood met Ms Gu at a hotel, he became drunk and then asked for water. “She poured a poison into his mouth,” the official said.
Ms Gu and Mr Zhang face the death penalty if convicted. But many legal experts expect Ms Gu will be convicted but only sentenced to a lengthy jail term, citing her desire to protect her son, who graduated from Harvard this year, as a mitigating factor.Ms Gu’s state-appointed lawyer told the court yesterday that Mr Heywood himself had some “responsibility in the matter”, the court official said, adding that a Heywood family representative had voiced respect for the court during the hearing.
As the trial took place, police dragged two Bo supporters into an unmarked car after they appeared outside the courthouse, singing patriotic songs that were the trademark of Bo’s populist leadership style and condemning the trial as a sham.“I don’t believe it. This case was decided well in advance,” Hu Jiye, a middle-aged man wearing a T-shirt and baseball cap, told foreign reporters at the rear of the court building, which was cordoned off by dozens of police standing in heavy rain.State censorship of internet chatter on the trial was swifter than normal yesterday, with users of China’s popular Twitter-like service Sina Weibo playing cat and mouse with censors to discuss the case, using word play to try and get around the controls.
In sketching out the case against Ms Gu for the first time, the court official also revealed that four Chinese policemen had now been charged with trying to protect her from investigation – a development that could prove dangerous for Bo, who has so far not been charged with any criminal offence.