Four senior Chinese police officers went on trial Friday on accusations they helped the wife of one of the country's highest-profile politicians cover up the murder of a British businessman in a scandal that has shaken the highest levels of leadership.
The case was heard in the same court in eastern China's Anhui province where the murder case against Gu Kailai finished in less than a day Thursday. Hefei Intermediate People's Court clerk Zhang Li confirmed the officers' trial was being held but gave no details.
Gu, the wife of Bo Xilai, the disgraced former Communist Party boss of the western city of Chongqing, did not contest the charges against her, court officials said. The verdict against her and a family aide also charged with murder was expected soon. A guilty verdict is all but assured and carries the potential punishment of 10 years in prison up to a death sentence.
The four Chongqing officers are accused of helping Gu cover up her actions during an investigation into business associate Neil Heywood's death last November, the official Xinhua News Agency said. It named them as Guo Weiguo, a former deputy chief of Chongqing's Public Security Bureau, Li Yang, Wang Pengfei and Wang Zhi.
Gu's arrest and the ouster of her husband as Chongqing party chief in March sparked the biggest political turbulence in China since the putdown of the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. The tightly orchestrated trials this week are a step toward resolving the scandal ahead of the party's once-in-a-decade leadership transition this fall.
One of China's most powerful and charismatic politicians until he was ousted, Bo had been considered a possible for the party's all-powerful nine-member Standing Committee when seven new members are appointed at the fall congress.
Hefei court officials said the evidence presented against Gu showed she lured Heywood to a Chongqing hotel, got him drunk and poured poison into his mouth to kill him after they had a dispute over economic interests. The evidence showed Gu thought Heywood was a threat to her son, a recent Harvard University graduate, though the court officials did not specify the nature of the threat.
Court officials and state media have made clear that the government considers the verdict a foregone conclusion. But experts have said mitigating factors, such as Gu's concern for her son's safety or that she suffered mental health issues, could bring leniency.
The murder only came to light in February, when former Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun suddenly fled to a U.S. consulate and told American diplomats about his suspicions that Heywood had been murdered and that Bo's family was involved.
Bo, 64, the son of a revolutionary veteran, was widely popular among working-class Chinese. But his overt maneuvering to reach the highest echelons of the Communist Party angered some leaders, as did his bombastic campaigns to bust organized crime and promote communist culture while trampling civil liberties and reviving memories of the chaotic Cultural Revolution.
Bo is in the hands of the party's internal discipline and inspection commission, which is expected to issue a statement about his infractions. That would open the way for a court trial with charges possibly including obstructing police work and abuse of power. Thus far, Bo has been accused only of grievous but unspecified rules violations.