Chinese authorities have for the first time implicated suspended Politburo member Bo Xilai in the scandal involving the murder of a British businessman by Mr. Bo’s wife, raising the prospect of the once powerful leader facing criminal charges after his imminent expulsion from the Communist Party of China (CPC).
Prosecutors in the trial of Wang Lijun — who served as the police chief in Chongqing and was the right-hand man of Mr. Bo — alleged that the suspended Politburo member had “angrily rebuked and slapped” Mr. Wang when confronted with evidence that his wife Gu Kailai had murdered British businessman Neil Heywood last November.
In the two-day trial which concluded on Tuesday, Mr. Wang was charged with covering up the murder, accepting bribes and defection. He did not contest the charges.
According to an account of the proceedings released by the official Xinhua news agency on Wednesday, Mr. Wang had, on January 28, “reported to the then leading official of the CPC Chongqing Committee” that Ms. Gu was “highly suspected” of murdering Heywood. The account did not directly name Mr. Bo — the party chief and senior most official in Chongqing at the time.
Prosecutors said Mr. Wang was “angrily rebuked and slapped in the face by the official”, citing accounts from witnesses.
They also detailed how Mr. Wang, who was close to the Bo family and helped Bo Xilai launch a corruption crackdown in Chongqing that won him national praise, covered up the murder for close to two months.
The court heard that Ms. Gu, who was handed a suspended death sentence on August 20, had confessed to Mr. Wang that she poisoned Heywood the day after his death. A secret recording of the conversation, made by Mr. Wang, was played to the courtroom.
The account did not, however, say why Mr. Wang subsequently fell out with Mr. Bo and confronted him with evidence about the case. Sources in Beijing have said tensions between the two men were triggered after central authorities started investigating Mr. Wang last year. Mr. Bo, who was expected to receive a high position following this year’s leadership transition, refused to back him.
The case erupted into the public domain when Mr. Wang fled to a U.S. Consulate in Chengdu on February 6, fearing for his safety after some of his associates had been targeted in investigations launched by Mr. Bo. Mr. Bo was sacked as Chongqing Party Secretary in March and suspended from the powerful 25-member Politburo in April. He is likely to be expelled from the CPC before next month’s 18th Party Congress, which will formalise the leadership transition.
While some of Mr. Bo’s supporters in the party are pushing for his case to be closed following his expulsion, Wednesday’s account suggests he is also likely to face criminal charges, possibly linked to the cover-up of the murder.
In a suggestion that he could also face corruption charges, prosecutors named a close business associate of Mr. Bo, Xu Ming, in Tuesday’s proceedings. They alleged that Mr. Wang had accepted bribes from Mr. Xu, the billionaire founder of the Dalian Shide group who is also currently under investigation.
They said Mr. Wang’s relatives had received two apartments in Beijing at a price of US$ 449,583 from Mr. Xu, who made his fortune in Dalian when Mr. Bo served there as mayor.