The trial of Gu Kailai, the wife of disgraced Chongqing party boss Bo Xilai, is expected to begin in less than two weeks, while a family lawyer made a surprise announcement that he would not be defending her.
Beijing-based lawyer Shen Zhigeng said the trial of Gu and family employee Zhang Xiaojun would begin on August 7 or 8 in Hefei, Anhui province. The two have been charged with murdering British businessman Neil Heywood.
The Gu family reportedly hired Shen last month. But Shen, who was in Hong Kong yesterday, said: 'I will not attend the opening of the trial.'
Reuters quoted him as saying: 'She will be represented by another lawyer recommended by the local lawyers' association.'
It was not clear if the decision was made by the Bo family, or by the government, nor the reason behind it.
The authorities sometimes impose restrictions on defendants choosing lawyers, especially in sensitive cases, and ask the local lawyers' association to assign a lawyer.
Officers at the Hefei Intermediate People's Court refused to comment on the matter, and an employee with the lawyers' association in Anhui said it had not received any request.
The charges against Gu and Zhang were made public on Thursday by Xinhua, which cited evidence that Gu and the couple's son, Bo Guagua , had 'economic conflicts' with Heywood. Fearing he posed a threat to her son, Gu and Zhang poisoned Heywood, it said.
Heywood's body was found at a hotel in Chongqing in November last year. The cause of death was initially recorded as alcohol poisoning. The British government has asked the Chinese authorities to look into the case.
A spokesman for the British embassy in Beijing said it had asked to send an observer to the trial but was still waiting for confirmation.
The indictment came a week after Patrick Devillers, a French architect said to have a close ties with Gu, voluntarily returned to China from Cambodia to help the investigation.
A spokesman for the French embassy in Beijing said two diplomats had met Devillers and would not say if Devillers would attend the trial.
Bo was dismissed from his post in March for violating party discipline.