The former police chief in Chongqing who triggered a major political scandal that led to the sacking of Polit Bureau member Bo Xilai was on Monday sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Wang Lijun, who served as Mr. Bo’s right-hand man, was charged with “bending the law for selfish ends”, defection, abuse of power and bribe-taking, according to a verdict issued on Monday morning by the Chengdu City Intermediate People’s Court and published by the State-run Xinhua news agency. Mr. Wang did not contest the charges when he stood trial in Chengdu, the provincial capital of Sichuan province, on September 17 and 18.

Explaining the 15-year jail term that Mr. Wang will have to serve, the verdict said he was sentenced to seven years on the charge of bending the law for selfish ends, two years on the charge of defection, two years for abuse of power and nine years for taking bribes. A combined sentence of 15 years was awarded for the four charges, the court said.

The verdict was seen as a lighter than expected sentence for Mr. Wang, who embarrassed the Communist Party months ahead of a once-in-ten year leadership change by fleeing to a United States Consulate in Chengdu on February 6, after falling out with Mr. Bo and fearing for his safety.

Prosecutors had hinted, during the two-day trial, that Mr. Wang would be shown some leniency for turning himself in to State security officials at the U.S. Consulate and for producing “important clues for exposing serious offences committed by others”, suggesting he had provided evidence to authorities as they build a case against Mr. Bo.

Mr. Wang did not contest charges that he had helped cover up the murder of British businessman and Bo family associate Neil Heywood.

Mr. Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, was on August 20 given a suspended death sentence, with a two-year reprieve, for poisoning Heywood.

While the fate of Mr. Bo is still unclear, the verdicts against Mr. Wang and Ms. Gu have cleared the way for the authorities to proceed with settling the more trickier case of the former Chongqing Party Secretary. In a first indication that the once powerful Polit Bureau member, who was sacked as Chongqing Party Secretary in March and suspended from the 25-member Politburo in April, may face criminal charges, prosecutors had, during Mr. Wang’s trial, hinted that he played a role in covering up the murder.

Without directly naming Mr. Bo, prosecutors said the top official in Chongqing at the time had “angrily rebuked and slapped” Mr. Wang when he was confronted with evidence about the role of Gu Kailai in Heywood's murder.

The CPC is keen to close the chapter on the scandal ahead of the 18 Party Congress, which is expected to be held in mid-October. The Congress will elect the 18th Central Committee, the 370-member body which will choose the next Politburo and Standing Committee.

Mr. Bo, who was expected to play a major role in the next generation of the leadership before his purging, is likely to be expelled from the party before the Congress, when the current 17th Central Committee holds its last plenum in coming weeks.

Whether or not he will also face criminal charges remains unclear. While the previous two Polit Bureau members who were expelled from the party were subsequently made to stand trial – the former Beijing mayor Chen Xitong and former Shanghai Party Chief Chen Liangyu were given jail terms of 16 and 18 years respectively – the case of Mr. Bo is seen as being particularly complicated considering his “princeling” background – his father Bo Yibo was an influential former leader – and wide network of connections in the party.

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