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China will try former politician's wife on murder charges (+video)

The wife of ousted Politburo member Bo Xilai, Gu Kailai, will be tried for the murder of a British business man. The trial is likely to start in early August. In the meantime, no details of the crime or the motive have been released to the public. 

By Michael Martina and Chris BuckleyReuters / July 26, 2012

A combination of two photographs shows British businessman Neil Heywood (L) and Gu Kailai, wife of China's former Chongqing Municipality Communist Party Secretary Bo Xilai (not pictured). China will try Gu on charges of murdering Heywood, in the latest turn in a scandal that has rocked the government in Beijing and could bring Gu the death penalty.

REUTERS/Stringer/Files

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BEIJING

China will try Gu Kailai, the wife of ousted Politburo member Bo Xilai, on charges of murdering a British man, state media said on Thursday in the latest turn in a scandal that has rocked the government in Beijing and could bring Gu the death penalty.

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Chinese authorities have charged and arrested the wife of disgraced political leader Bo Xilai for the killing of British businessman Neil Heywood.

The contentious dismissal of Bo has already shaken the Communist Party's looming once-in-a-decade succession, and now Gu and family aide Zhang Xiaojun will be prosecuted for allegedly poisoning businessman Neil Heywood last year over "conflict of economic interests", the official Xinhua news agency said.

"The facts of the two defendants' crime are clear, and the evidence is irrefutable and substantial," said the Xinhua report summarising the indictment. "Therefore, the two defendants should be charged with intentional homicide."

Gu and Zhang will face trial in Hefei, a city in eastern China, far from Chongqing, the sprawling municipality in the southwest where Bo made his political base and where Heywood died in a hillside hotel in November.

Bo has not been named as a suspect in the murder case, but he is separately under investigation by party authorities and could also face trial at a later time.

Political observers have said a failure to forge a unified stance on handling the divisive Bo case could affect the Communist Party's focus on working out the leadership changes that will be decided at the upcoming congress.

Bo, the 62-year-old party chief of Chongqing before his dismissal, was widely seen as pushing for a spot in that new leadership until felled by the scandal brought to light by his former police chief, Wang Lijun.

"As big as this case is, the party congress will now proceed quite smoothly," said Joseph Fewsmith, a professor of Chinese politics at Boston University.

"The party has handled this case as one of one person breaking the law. The ideological issues have been pushed to the side, although that doesn't mean they're not there."

Trial Seen in Early August 

Xinhua did not give a date for the trial, but Shen Zhigeng, a lawyer who had been employed by Gu's family, told Reuters that her trial was likely to start on Aug. 7 or 8. China's party-run courts rarely find in favour of defendants, and Gu and Zhang could face the death penalty.

In London, the British Foreign Office responded to news of the indictment by saying it was glad the investigation was continuing.

"The details of the ongoing investigation are a matter for the Chinese authorities," it added in a statement.

"However we are glad to see that the Chinese authorities are continuing with the investigation into the death of Neil Heywood. We are dedicated to seeking justice for him and his family and we will be following developments closely," it added.

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