The police chief who triggered a political scandal that led to the purge of Communist Party of China (CPC) Politburo member Bo Xilai has been charged with abuse of power, bribe-taking and defection, state media reported on Wednesday.
Wang Lijun, who was the police chief in the municipality of Chongqing and once Mr. Bo’s right-hand man, fled to a United States Consulate in Chengdu on February 6 seeking asylum after a falling out with his then
boss. His flight to the consulate brought into the public domain the biggest political scandal China has seen in a generation, ultimately leading to the sacking of the once-influential Mr. Bo and presenting the CPC with a difficult balancing act ahead of a leadership transition.
Mr. Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, was, last month, given a suspended death sentence with a two-year reprieve for the murder of British businessman and Bo family associate Neil Heywood. During her trial, prosecutors said Mr. Wang had helped cover up the death of Heywood.
Chongqing police officials had said in November that his death in a city hotel room was due to “excessive alcohol consumption”.
An indictment issued by the Chengdu City People’s Procuratorate said Mr. Wang “had known beforehand” that Ms. Gu was “under serious suspicion of murdering Neil Heywood”. It said he had “consciously neglected his duty and bent the law for personal gain,” the official Xinhua news agency reported. He was also indicted for the crime of defection for “leaving his post without authorisation and defecting to the U.S. Consulate General in Chengdu”.
The other charges filed by prosecutors at the Chengdu Intermediate People’s Court included abuse of power and bribe-taking, in addition to bending the law for selfish ends and defection. A trial is expected to begin in Chengdu in coming days, although no date has, as yet, been announced.
An investigation into Mr. Wang, who had helped Mr. Bo launch a popular anti-corruption campaign in Chongqing which boosted his national profile, was initiated by the CPC's Central Commission for Discipline
Inspection in January. Shortly after, he was demoted by Mr. Bo, leading to a falling out between the two men.
A few days after his demotion, Mr. Wang fled to the U.S. Consulate fearing for his safety and seeking asylum, reportedly after confronting Mr. Bo with evidence of Ms. Gu’s involvement in the murder of Heywood. Mr. Bo was sacked as Chongqing Party Secretary in March, and suspended from the powerful 25-member Politburo in April for “serious disciplinary violations”.
By concluding the cases against Ms. Gu and Mr. Wang, the CPC can move ahead and settle Mr. Bo’s fate. The party is thought to be keen to close the chapter on the scandal before the 18th Party Congress, scheduled to be held in October, which will formalise the once-in-ten years leadership transition.
Mr. Bo faces expulsion from the party, which could be announced in coming days when the current 17th Central Committee holds its last plenary session. He may also face criminal charges following his expulsion. In the previous two instances where Politburo members were expelled from the party, they received lengthy jail terms: former Beijing Mayor Chen Xitong was sentenced to 16 years in jail in 1998 and the former Shanghai party chief Chen Liangyu was given a 18-year sentence in 2006.
Mr. Bo’s case, however, is seen as being particularly sensitive. Before his removal, he was expected to have played a key role in the leadership transition. His father, Bo Yibo, was a Communist revolutionary and associate of Mao Zedong’s. Mr. Bo was well-connected with allies in the People’s Liberation Army, where his father enjoyed influence, and among fellow “princeling” leaders.