Wife of fallen China politician Bo Xilai has sentence commuted

Beijing, December 14

The wife of former Chinese political heavyweight Bo Xilai has had her suspended death sentence for murdering a British businessman commuted to life imprisonment, the latest episode of a drama that rocked the Communist party three years ago.

Gu Kailai was condemned to death with a two-year reprieve in 2012 for murdering British businessman Neil Heywood, who had been close to the family.

The prison where Gu is serving her term applied last year for her penalty to be reduced. The Higher People’s Court of Beijing said in a statement dated Friday that it had commuted her punishment to life in jail, according to statements posted on the website of China’s supreme court.

The prison said Gu “obeyed discipline”, qualified in “ideological, cultural and technological studies” and “completed labour tasks in a timely manner”.

The Beijing court said Gu was “eligible for the legal conditions for a commutation” since she “did not commit any crimes” while incarcerated.

The suspended death sentence is typically commuted to life in prison in China, although the period of time served varies.

The law states that a death sentence for murder cannot be commuted to less than 20 years in jail, but legal experts say there have been cases where the courts have ordered shorter sentences.

Gu’s case triggered the scandal that brought down her husband Bo, a charismatic but divisive politician, and exposed deep splits in the ruling Communist party before a generational handover of power in 2012.

Bo had been tipped for promotion to the elite group of party leaders that effectively rules China until the allegations against his wife burst into the open.

He was sentenced to life imprisonment on charges of bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power in 2013.

Bo’s top aide Wang Lijun -- who fled to a US consulate, reportedly seeking asylum -- was imprisoned for 15 years in 2012 for defection and covering up Gu’s killing of Heywood, among other offences.

Former railway minister Liu Zhijun, who was given a suspended death penalty in 2013 in a separate corruption scandal, also had his sentence commuted, the Beijing court said.