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Before China's transfer of power, a would-be defector gets a 15-year sentence (+video)

Wang Lijun, the Chinese police chief whose thwarted defection exposed the murder of a British businessman and a turf war between top Communist Party officials, was sentenced to 15 years in prison Monday.

By Gillian WongAssociated Press / September 24, 2012

In this video image taken from CCTV, Wang Lijun speaks during his trial at the Chengdu Intermediate People's Court in Chengdu, southwest China's Sichuan province, Monday.

CCTV via AP video/AP

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Chengdu, China

China has nearly mopped up a murder scandal that has roiled the country for months, but the last step — dealing with a fallen political star who was once among the Communist Party's most popular figures — will be the most delicate of all.

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China jails ex-police chief Wang Lijun to 15 years in jail, found guilty on four charges, including seeking to conceal the murder of a British businessman. Marie-Claire Fennessy reports.

Bo Xilai's former right-hand man and police chief, Wang Lijun, was sentenced Monday to 15 years in prison for making a thwarted defection bid, and for helping Bo's wife cover up the murder of a British businessman. Bo's wife and other figures in the scandal were sentenced previously, and Beijing is keen to settle the fate of Bo himself before a once-a-decade change in leadership expected next month.

Ever since Wang's thwarted defection bid at a U.S. consulate in February made the scandal public, the question of what to do about Bo, then a powerful party boss in Chongqing city, has bedeviled Chinese leaders. It strained relations among Communist Party power brokers just as they were cutting deals to transfer of power to younger leaders; deciding whether to prosecute him or merely purge him from the party became part of the bargaining.

Wang's trial and verdict bode ill for Bo. The official account of the trial implied that Bo ignored his wife's involvement in the murder after Wang told him about it. Though it referred to Bo by his position rather than his name, the account marked the first time in weeks of trials that Bo was mentioned in any way.

In sentencing Wang, the court emphasized his help in the murder investigation against Bo's wife, who was convicted last month, and in exposing the crimes of unspecified others.

"He apparently got credit for turning against" Bo and his wife, said Dali Yang, director of the University of Chicago Center in Beijing. "The revelation against Bo Xilai provides ground for the central leadership to dismiss Bo formally and, if they choose to do so, presumably to bring criminal charges."

Debating Bo's fate is one of the issues that has delayed announcement of a National Party Congress, a pivotal event in installing the new generation of leaders. With verdicts in for Wang and Bo's wife out of the way, leaders are next expected to announce dates for the congress and for a preparatory meeting to deal with Bo.

"The lack of a date for the congress appears to be evidence still of divisions over Bo and the final leadership lineup, as well as questions of political reform and other sensitive issues," said Jean-Pierre Cabestan, head of the department of government and international studies at Hong Kong Baptist University.

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