Gu Kailai, wife of purged Politburo member Bo Xilai, did not contest the charge of murdering a British businessman during the much anticipated trial that concluded in less than a day on Thursday, court officials have said.
Prosecutors in Hefei, the provincial capital of Anhui, where the trial is being held — seemingly to minimise public scrutiny — claimed Ms. Gu directly put poison into the mouth of Neil Heywood, an associate of the Bo family who was found dead last November in a hotel room in Chongqing, where Mr. Bo served as Party Secretary.
The death of Heywood sparked a major political scandal, derailing the rapid rise of Mr. Bo, a popular “princeling” leader and son of a Communist Party founding revolutionary. In April, Mr. Bo was suspended from the 25-member Politburo for “serious disciplinary violations” — apparently linked to the cover-up of the murder — and is under investigation by the party’s internal disciplinary authority, facing the prospect of expulsion and criminal investigation.
Ms. Gu, a high-profile lawyer, stood trial on Thursday morning along with Zhang Xiaojun, a young orderly at the Bo home who was charged as an accessory to the crime. In her first public appearance since the scandal broke, Ms. Gu, dressed in a white shirt and black jacket, appeared calm.
Prosecutors said Ms. Gu poisoned Heywood after having a drink with him in his hotel room. They said “after Heywood was drunk, vomited and asked for water, she put the poison she had prepared… into Heywood’s mouth.”
Ms. Gu did not contest the charges, court officials said, adding that a verdict would be announced at a later date.
Under Chinese laws, Ms. Gu and Mr. Zhang could face the death penalty. Arguing for a lesser punishment — a suspended sentence has been cited as a possibility by analysts — defence lawyers said Ms. Gu acted out of fear that Heywood had threatened her son and that her “capacity for control was weaker than normal people’s at the time of the offence.”
Four Chongqing police officers accused of covering up the alleged murder will stand trial on Friday in the same courtroom. This week’s trial has been seen as the most anticipated since the famous Gang of Four trial in 1981, which was, in marked contrast, broadcast on national television and widely followed as China looked to draw a line over the turbulent Cultural Revolution (1966-76).
In this instance, state-run media has remained silent about the trial, confirming its occurrence only after the hearings had concluded.
Officials have been keen to present the scandal as a straightforward murder investigation, wary of any political fallout ahead of a once-in-a-decade transition. The closed trial has, however, been seen by many analysts as inextricably tied to the political future of the popular but divisive Mr. Bo, and as having little to do with the law — an impression reinforced by the fact that Ms. Gu was even disallowed, according to her associates, from appointing her own lawyers for the trial.