HEFEI: The wife of disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai stood trial Thursday for the murder of a British former associate in a tightly orchestrated proceeding that marks a key step toward resolving the messiest scandal the leadership has faced in two decades.
Gu Kailai and a household aide faced charges of murdering Neil Heywood, a British businessman who had close ties to the Bo family, in a trial at the Hefei Intermediate People's Court in eastern China. They were represented by government-appointed lawyers from Anhui province, of which Hefei is the capital city.
A court official at the courthouse confirmed the trial had started after a convoy of black cars entered a side entrance into an underground parking lot and a British diplomat was seen entering the court. The diplomat did not comment.
Observers say the central leadership's main objectives in Gu's trial is to keep the focus tightly on the murder case and not on larger allegations of corruption that could further taint the communist regime. Beijing also will closely orchestrate publicity to try to convince the domestic audience that the trial has been fair and the international community that justice has been served in the slaying of a foreigner.
The morning of the trial began with a steady downpour. Security was tight around the courthouse, with roads around it blocked to car travel. Reporters were asked to present their IDs before being allowed to get close to the building, but police lines were pulled across the main entrance and guarded by police. Other entrances were similarly guarded. Dozens of plainclothes security officers loitered around the streets. Several special police vans were parked around the building.
Gu and the aide, Zhang Xiaojun, are likely to be found guilty of intentional homicide, which carries punishment ranging from more than 10 years in jail to a life sentence or the death penalty. In announcing the indictment about two weeks ago, the official Xinhua News Agency made clear the government considers the verdict a foregone conclusion. "The facts of the two defendants' crime are clear, and the evidence is irrefutable and substantial," it said.
Gu and Zhang are accused of poisoning Heywood in November in the southwestern mega-city of Chongqing, where Bo was party chief until his ouster this spring. According to Xinhua, Gu had a falling out with Heywood over money and worried that her son's safety was threatened.
The scandal has drawn attention to political infighting that China prefers to keep secret and comes at a time when the government is preparing for a once-a-decade political transition that will install a new generation of leaders. Bo was once a contender for a top job.