Holding Gu Kailai trial in Anhui is in line with policy for major cases
The decision to hear the case against Gu Kailai more than 1,000 kilometres from Chongqing , where her husband Bo Xilai was once party boss, fits with Beijing's preference in recent years to try senior officials far from their power base, analysts say.
Xinhua reported on Thursday that Gu and family aide Zhang Xiaojun would be tried for murder at Hefei Intermediate People's Court in Anhui province. Prosecutors had informed the two defendants of their legal rights.
Analysts said it was common for senior officials and their families to be tried in courts removed from the hometown or cities they were serving. For example, disgraced Shanghai party secretary Chen Liangyu was tried in Tianjin in 2008.
The practice has grown more prevalent since 2001, when Ma Xiangdong, a former deputy mayor of Shenyang, was able to bribe officials through his wife while in detention in the city.
For Gu's case, courts in Dalian and Liaoning are deemed unsuitable given Bo had extensive experience there.
'The practice is aimed at preventing officials from using their personal connections to tamper with legal proceedings,' said Wang Yukai , a professor with the Chinese Academy of Governance. 'Given that Bo is a Politburo member and oversaw almost all aspects in Chongqing, it is appropriate for the authorities to hear the case in Anhui.'
Bo was removed as Chongqing party secretary in March and has been suspended from his other duties in April for suspected violation of party discipline. But he remains a popular figure in the municipality, especially among leftists, who believe he is the victim of a struggle among political factions.
'The authorities want to avoid uncertainties during the trial and ensure the verdict will be convincing to the public,' lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan said.
Legal experts said confusion could arise due to the role of Gu's son, Bo Guagua, in the affair. He was named in the Xinhua report as being involved in his mother's 'economic conflicts' with British businessman Neil Heywood. He lives in the United States, and although the charge did not list Bo Guagua by name, testimony at the trial might touch on him.
Ong Yew-kim, an expert on mainland law at Chinese University, said that in theory the son would need to testify. 'But it will be difficult to summon him to testify so long as he has a valid residential permit for the United States and [if] he is not willing to return to China,' he said.
State media have been quiet about the trial, part of the most serious political scandal in China in two decades, with most newspapers reprinting only the announcement from Xinhua. However, an editorial in the Global Times said the trial was a test of the rule of law.
'The special background of Gu and the relationship between her case and the Bo Xilai case can easily trigger speculation in society,' it said. 'No matter what impact the ruling will have, judges must be loyal to the law. This is a test of their commitment to the rule of law.'