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Gu Kailai, Bo Xilai's wife, gets suspended death sentence for British businessman's murder (+video)

Gu Kailai will likely face life in prison for her role in the death last year of Neil Haywood. Gu Kailai admitted to poisoning the British businessman.

By John RuwitchReuters / August 20, 2012

Gu Kailai (front, C), wife of ousted Chinese Communist Party Politburo member Bo Xilai, attends a trial in the court room at Hefei Intermediate People's Court in this still image taken from video August 20.

CCTV via Reuters TV/REUTERS

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HEFEI, China

China sentenced Gu Kailai, the wife of fallen Politburo member Bo Xilai, to death on Monday but suspended her execution, setting the stage for a possible final purge of Bo himself in a scandal that has shaken Beijing ahead of a leadership transition.

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Gu Kailai addresses the Chinese court where she has been given a suspended death sentence.

The sentence means Gu Kailai is likely to face life in jail for murdering British businessman Neil Heywood last year.

It also brings a curtain down on China's most sensational trial in three decades, yet opens a new and more politically dangerous act for the ruling Communist Party -- how to deal with Bo, an ambitious and well-connected provincial leader whose downfall exposed rifts in the party.

"I feel the verdict is just and fully reflects the court's special respect for the law, its special respect for reality and, in particular, its special respect for life," Gu said of the sentence in official television footage of the hearing.

Gu, 53, wore a white shirt and black suit and stood expressionless, hands folded in front of her, as she spoke, pausing at one point to find the right words.

At her trial on Aug. 9, Gu admitted to poisoning Heywood last November, and alleged that a business dispute between them led him to threaten her son, Bo Guagua, according to official accounts published by state media.

A court official, Tang Yigan, said the court had concluded that Heywood used threatening words against Bo Guagua, but had never acted on them. The court also found Gu's actions reflected a "psychological impairment" but did not elaborate.

Gu could still face execution if she commits a new offence over the next two years. Almost invariably in China, however, such suspended sentences are commuted to long prison terms.

The court, in the eastern city of Hefei, also said Zhang Xiaojun, an aide to the Bo family, was sentenced to nine years in jail for acting as an accomplice to the poisoning of Heywood.

"With both of the defendants declining to appeal, this marks the end of things," Zhang's lawyer, Li Renting, told Reuters.

Four policemen were also convicted on Monday of having sought to protect Gu from investigation, receiving jail sentences of between five and 11 years - a development that could prove damaging for Bo because it establishes formally that there was an attempted cover-up.

Police sources in Chongqing, the southwestern municipality ruled by Bo until he was ousted as its party chief in March, have said that Bo tried to shut down the investigation into his wife after being told she was a suspect early this year.

Some Chinese political experts doubt the party will look to prosecute Bo, and note that his name was not cited at either the trial of his wife or the four policemen. But He Weifang, a law professor at Peking University, said he believed Bo would still face a court once the party had decided how to handle him.

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