A scandal that ruined the career of prominent Chinese Communist Party leader Bo Xilai, and led to murder charges against his wife, has widened to include four of his former security chiefs being charged with covering up the crime.
A statement from the court in eastern China’s Hefei city said it will hold a trial on Friday for the four men, who held senior security roles in the central city of Chongqing while Bo served as its Communist Party chief.
Implicated in Cover Up
Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, appeared at a brief trial Thursday on charges she conspired with a family butler to poison British businessman Neil Heywood in a Chongqing hotel room last November. The court said the four Chongqing security officials have been charged with covering up Gu’s role in the incident and “bending the law to achieve personal benefit.”
There was no verdict announced after the trial of Gu and the butler, Zhang Xiaojun, at the Hefei court. Heywood was a business partner of Gu’s, and prosecutors said she killed him after a financial dispute. A court official later said Gu did not deny the allegations against her, but she has never publicly given her side of the story.
The disclosure of charges against Bo Xilai’s former security chiefs is the first time the Chinese government has publicly implicated them in the scandal. The central government removed Bo from his Chongqing post in March for unspecified offenses after his wife was accused of murder. But he has not been publicly charged in the case.
Security Chiefs Linked to Bo
The four men due to stand trial on Friday include the former deputy chief of Chongqing’s Public Security Bureau, Guo Weiguo, the former chief of the bureau’s criminal section, Li Yang, and former security officials Wang Pengfei and Wang Zhi. The defendants had served under former public security bureau chief Wang Lijun, who first revealed the murder allegations against Gu to U.S. diplomats in February.
Wang and his deputies had worked under Bo Xilai’s authority for years, dating back to Bo’s tenure as governor of the northeastern province of Liaoning in the early 2000s. They followed Bo to Chongqing after he became municipal party chief in 2007.
New Details of Killing
Thursday’s statement by the Hefei court marked the first time Chinese authorities said publicly how they think Heywood was killed. The court said prosecutors believe Gu lured Heywood to the Chongqing hotel room and got him drunk, causing him to vomit and ask for water. Prosecutors said Gu took a poison prepared by Zhang, the butler, and poured it into to Heywood’s mouth, killing him.
Chinese authorities initially ruled that Heywood died of an alcohol overdose and cremated his body.
A court official quoted prosecutors as saying Gu was the “main culprit” in the murder, while Zhang was an “accomplice.” The court did not announce a date for the verdict. Both defendants were shown in state television footage of the trial. Gu had not been seen in months and appeared to have gained weight. No independent media were allowed into the tightly guarded courtroom.
The court official said Gu’s defense lawyer appealed for leniency by arguing that Gu was not fully in control of her actions and that Heywood bore some responsibility for the incident. The official did not elaborate.
Security Tight in Hefei
Reporter Shannon Van Sant said uniformed and plainclothes police were deployed in neighborhoods and even shopping malls around the courthouse. Van Sant said a group of about 20 people showed up at the courthouse in the morning and spoke with reporters about their support for Bo Xilai, whom they saw as an alternative to what they referred to as China’s current corrupt leadership.
“Initially there were some undercover police and thugs [who] tried to block cameras with their umbrellas,” Van Sant said. “Eventually some other police came over as the people started speaking more forcefully and more passionately of their support for Bo Xilai.” Van Sant said the police beat several protesters, and eventually forced at least two men inside one of their cars.
The Bo Xilai case has embarrassed China’s ruling Communist Party as it prepares for a once-in-a-decade leadership reshuffle later this year.
Bo Xilai was widely expected to be in line for a seat at the Standing Committee of the party’s Politburo. During his tenure in Chongqing, he led a controversial revival of Communist themes and tried to clean up the city by planting trees and cracking down on organized crime. He was considered a popular politician among residents.