The ex-police chief at the centre of a seamy political scandal will be sentenced on Monday as Chinese leaders move to dispatch a messy affair that has upset a tricky transition of power.
The Intermediate People’s Court in Chengdu on Friday announced the verdict date for Wang Lijun, whose two-day trial on charges of defecting, abuse of power and other alleged misdeeds ended on Tuesday.
Once the verdict is pronounced, Chinese leaders are expected to deal with the scandal’s most nettlesome issue: whether to prosecute Wang’s former boss, disgraced leader Bo Xilai, once a rising political star and a rare Chinese politician with national popularity.
Wang, a headline-grabbing, imperious police chief in the inland city of Chongqing, set off the scandal when he sought refuge in a nearby US consulate in February. Inside, he told US diplomats that Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, had murdered a British businessman over a business dispute. Prosecutors said he also applied for asylum, though he later surrendered to Chinese authorities.
The crimes Wang is charged with are generally punishable by up to 10 years in prison, 20 years if the sentences are served consecutively, though life in prison or even death are possible for egregious breaches.
In an official account of his trial, prosecutors argued that Wang was entitled to a more lenient punishment because he later cooperated in exposing Gu’s murder of Briton Neil Heywood. They said his information about others’ crimes “should be considered a major meritorious service”.
The account also suggests that “the Chongqing party committee’s main responsible person at the time” – meaning Bo – knew about the murder and did nothing. The glancing reference in the trial account suggests that Bo is likely to face criminal charges.
Wang’s tale of murder and cover-up unleashed sharp infighting among a leadership that works hard to project an image of unanimity and affirmed to an already sceptical public a Communist Party consumed with power grabs and corruption. The scandal led to Bo’s suspension from the Politburo, his wife’s suspended death sentence in the murder and fiercer bargaining for positions in a new leadership that is supposed to be installed this fall.
In the tumult, a top aide to President Hu Jintao was sidelined after his son died after crashing his Ferrari, a sign of corruption. Vice President Xi Jinping, who is supposed to replace the retiring Hu, also dropped from public view for nearly two weeks this month, cancelling meetings with foreign dignitaries without explanation and sparking rumours about his health.
Xi resurfaced last weekend and resumed an active schedule, meeting with US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta this week and then travelling to southern China to open an annual China-Southeast Asia business exposition on Friday.