China’s Bo Xilai scandal takes new turn with indictment of ex-police chief

The former provincial police chief, Wang Lijun, triggered China’s biggest political scandal in two decades.

China's Chongqing Municipality Communist Party Secretary Bo Xilai (L) and Deputy Mayor of Chongqing Wang Lijun (R) sing the national anthem during a session of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) of the Chongqing Municipal Committee, in Chongqing municipality in this January 7 file photo.

A former police chief whose dramatic overnight stay at a US consulate in February set off the biggest political scandal to hit China in years has been indicted on charges that involve defection, abuse of power, and taking bribes, state media said Wednesday.

The news of formal charges against Wang Lijun, who was also the vice mayor of Chongqing, marks yet another turn in the saga of Bo Xilai, the former Chinese Communist Party chief of that southwestern metropolis and a rising political star whose fortunes unraveled after Wang’s unsanctioned excursion to the US diplomatic outpost.

Mr. Wang’s appearance at the consulate allegedly came after he and Mr. Bo fell out over Wang’s assertion that Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, was involved in the death last year of a British businessman in a Chongqing hotel room.

Prosecutors assert that Wang “neglected his duty and bent the law for personal gain so that Kailai would not be held legally responsible” for the killing of the Briton, Neil Heywood, Xinhua reported. Presumably, Wang changed his approach at some point, leading to the confrontation with Bo, though Xinhua made no mention of a conflict between Bo and Wang over the case.

Gu was sentenced last month to death on murder charges, with a two-year reprieve that probably will be commuted to a lengthy prison term. Judging by the timeline in Gu’s case – two weeks from her charges being publicly announced in late July to a trial in early August, and then sentencing less than two weeks afterward – proceedings for Wang probably will be completed sooner rather than later.

Xinhua didn’t report whether Wang had sought asylum from American officials at the consulate in Chengdu, a city to the west of Chongqing, saying only that he “left his post without authorization and defected to the United States Consulate General.”

Wang also stands accused of conducting illegal surveillance and accepting “massive bribes,” Xinhua said.

As with Gu, the wording of the Xinhua item suggested that a guilty verdict is a foregone conclusion: “Prosecutors said facts related to Wang Lijun’s crimes were clear; the evidence was concrete and abundant.” He’s to be tried in Chengdu on a date to be named later, Xinhua said.

The crucial issue of what might happen to Bo, though, remains far from certain. So far, state media have said, in a short item posted in April, only that he’s “suspected of being involved in serious discipline violations.” He was removed from his job in Chongqing and as a member of the politburo, but he hasn’t been charged with any crimes.

As he’s the son of a legendary Chinese Communist Party leader, and once was a serious contender for a seat on the ruling Politburo Standing Committee, Bo’s case is viewed as an extremely sensitive matter for Beijing.

The majority of Standing Committee members are expected to be replaced at a coming Communist Party congress during a once-in-a-decade transition of power. Although the date of the event isn’t yet known, speculation has centered on mid-October.

The way in which the party handles Bo is widely seen as one piece of the puzzle in the internal jockeying among various political factions. In a nation where politics are tightly managed, there have been signs beyond Bo’s disgrace that the current competition is unusually fluid.

For instance, a Hong Kong newspaper, the South China Morning Post, reported Monday that the ambitions of Ling Jihua, a principal aide to President Hu Jintao, faced a setback after his son was killed when the Ferrari he was driving hit a wall in Beijing in March. The body of Ling’s son was found partially undressed and accompanied by two women, one of whom was partially nude and the other entirely nude, according to the newspaper.

There was an attempt to cover up the driver’s identity, the newspaper said, and though the allegations had floated around overseas websites, the Morning Post story was a bombshell that led to conjecture about Hu’s camp being weakened.

The newspaper noted that, “The cover-up is reminiscent of the botched attempt to hide the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood in Chongqing in November.”

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