Bo's wife to stand trial for murder
Gu Kailai, the lawyer wife of disgraced Chongqing party chief Bo Xilai, is to be tried for intentional homicide over the murder of a British businessman, a case that has rocked the Communist Party's leadership transition.
An intermediate court in the eastern city of Hefei will try Gu and a Bo family employee, Zhang Xiaojun, for the poisoning of Neil Heywood, supposedly because Gu believed he posed a treat to the safety of her son, Xinhua reported yesterday.
'Investigation results show that Bogu Kailai and her son, surnamed Bo, had conflicts with the British citizen Neil Heywood over economic interests,' Xinhua said, using Gu's married name. 'Worried about Neil Heywood's threat to her son's personal safety, Bogu Kailai together with Zhang Xiaojun fatally poisoned Neil Heywood.'
The facts surrounding the two defendants' crime were 'clear', and the evidence 'irrefutable and substantial', according to the Xinhua report. 'Therefore, the two defendants should be charged with intentional homicide.'
No trial date was announced.
Conviction for intentional homicide carries penalties ranging from three years in jail to death under mainland criminal law.
However, legal experts said the unexpected mention of the only son of the family, Bo Guagua, in the announcement might mitigate punishment for Gu.
Mo Shaoping, a Beijing-based lawyer, said a court would normally exercise leniency if the safety of the murder suspect or their family were threatened.
'In delivering the sentence, the court will also consider other factors, such as whether the victim of the murder case did anything illegal,' he said. But Mo said Gu would need to present concrete evidence proving Heywood posed a real threat, and the court would need to consider the seriousness of that threat.
Ong Yew-kim, a Hong Kong-based expert on mainland law at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said Gu might receive a relatively lenient sentence of no more than 15 years' imprisonment. Conflicts over major economic interests and the desire to protect her son from threats could have given Gu a justifiable motive to commit murder, Ong said.
In addition, Ong said, the Xinhua announcement did not specify which defendant, Gu or Zhang, took the lead role in the murder.
Gu has been in police custody since April as a major suspect in the murder. But no details of the crime have been released.
Overseas media reports have said that Heywood was killed after he had threatened to expose the Bo family's massive transfers of money abroad.
Yesterday's Xinhua announcement came a week after Patrick Devillers, a French architect said to have a close relationship with Gu, returned to China from detention in Cambodia to assist in the inquiry.
The scandal erupted in February after Bo's right-hand man, the former Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun, fled to a US consulate. Bo, once a top contender for a position in the new leadership, is believed to be under house arrest and is being investigated for corruption by the party's top disciplinary agency.
Mo said that judging from the Xinhua statement, Bo would not face criminal charges because authorities had not found that he was involved in the murder.
Britain responded to news that Gu had been indicted by saying it was glad to see that China was continuing investigating the killing.