The trial of Bo Xilai took a dramatic turn yesterday as his former top aide told the court how the disgraced Chongqing party chief punched him when confronted with his wife's involvement in a murder.
Wang Lijun delivered his gripping account seated just a few metres from Bo - their first face-to-face encounter since Bo sacked Wang in February last year. The drama was heightened further when Bo cross-examined his former confidant, whom he described as "two-faced".
Wang, the former Chongqing police chief, who is serving a 15-year jail sentence for bribery, defection and other crimes, said he told Bo in January last year that his wife, Gu Kailai , was suspected of murdering British businessman and family associate Neil Heywood. He testified that Bo's violent response to his accusation against Gu left him fearful for his safety.
"He suddenly threw a punch and hit my left ear," Wang told the Jinan Intermediate People's Court, according to transcripts posted on the court's official microblog. "The corner of my mouth was bleeding; there was fluid coming out of my ear."
Wang said his allies in the Chongqing police had gone missing after his fallout with Bo. He had no choice but to flee to the American consulate in Chengdu a week later, he said.
"It was very dangerous for me at the time," said Wang during his 90-minute appearance in court. "First, I was treated with violence. Then, people who worked for me and the investigators on the case all disappeared."
Bo, who gave his own version of events before Wang entered the court, admitted errors in judgment, but took issue with his longtime subordinate's account. He said he had trouble accepting Wang's claims against Gu because the relationship between the pair was "extremely good". "Gu in my memory was a gentle lady. She couldn't have killed somebody. And she was on very good terms with Wang," he said.
In one of the day's most dramatic exchanges, Bo questioned Wang directly: "What do you think was the reason that I forced you out? To cover up the November 15 murder case?"
"Yes," replied Wang, whose health quickly became a talking point last night after lawyer Li Zhuang , known for his connections in Chongqing, quoted an attendant as saying Wang entered the court in a wheelchair.
The abuse of power charge against Bo - one of three he faces - centres on his sacking of Wang and his cover-up of the murder.
Both men agreed their relationship unravelled when Wang told Bo his suspicions. Bo stormed out for 40 minutes, but came back to thank him for the information. Bo's mood darkened the next day. After summoning Wang to his office, he struck him and smashed a mug. Bo said it was only a slap, but Wang described it as a punch that caused his body to shake.
Bo said he felt ashamed by Wang's flight to the consulate because it reflected badly on the country and the party.
"I bear some responsibility for Wang Lijun's flight and I feel very sorry for this. … But whether there was a crime or not is another matter. I did not act illegally to show favouritism and protect Gu Kailai," he said, according to a court transcript. Gu is serving a suspended death sentence after being convicted last year for Heywood's murder.
The court said that Bo's trial would continue today, pushing proceedings into a fourth day.
Earlier in the day, Bo continued his spirited defence of himself, dismissing accounts that he embezzled five million yuan from a construction company in Dalian in the northeast, where he was formerly mayor.
Bo also admitted he had committed adultery. "I was unfaithful. She got furious and moved to the UK with Guagua ... largely to get back at me," Bo said, describing his wife's reaction to his infidelity.