China says ex-cop cooperated in murder probe

GILLIAN WONG
Associated Press
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UPDATING THE CAPTION WHEN THE TRIAL STARTED - Chinese people play cards on the pavement near the Chengdu Intermediate People's Court in Chengdu in southwest China's Sichuan province Monday, Sept. 17, 2012. The trial of Wang Lijun, an ex-police chief at the center of China's worst political scandal in decades, started unexpectedly at the court Monday, a day earlier than the court had announced. At the height of his career, Wang led a police crackdown on the violent underworld in a sprawling metropolis, arresting hundreds of gangsters and government officials, some of whom were sentenced and executed in a matter of months. Now the former police chief is in the hands of the opaque Chinese justice he once brandished against others. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

CHENGDU, China (AP) — Prosecutors argued that an ex-police chief cooperated with investigators after initially covering up the murder of a British businessman by a top Chinese politician's wife, a court official said Tuesday at the end of a trial that is enmeshed with a political scandal roiling China's leadership.

The Intermediate Court in Chengdu city concluded Wang Lijun's trial after two half-day sessions without a verdict. But the proceedings bring Chinese leaders a step closer to resolving the scandal that exposed seamy infighting and buffeted a delicate transfer of power to new leaders.

A summary of the trial by a court spokesman fleshed out Wang's role in the murder last year, saying that Gu Kailai, the wife of Chongqing Communist Party chief Bo Xilai, conferred with him before and after the crime. Gu confessed to the murder and received a suspended death sentence at a trial last month.

The summary also said that prosecutors and Wang's lawyers argued that he cooperated with authorities after his arrest.

The emphasis in the official accounts on Wang's cooperation suggests authorities may give him a lighter sentence. The crimes he faces are generally punishable by up to 10 years in prison with a 20-year maximum for consecutive sentences, though sentencing guidelines allow for life imprisonment in egregious cases.

The scandal erupted after Wang fled to the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu in February with information that Gu's business partner Neil Heywood — whose death in November was initially ruled as either a homicide or a heart attack — was in fact murdered and that Gu was a suspect. After a 33-hour stay at the consulate, Wang gave himself up to Chinese authorities.

The trial summary said Wang knew that Gu was a suspect in the murder all along and only cooperated with authorities after the alleged cover-up and his attempted defection at the U.S. consulate failed.

Absent in the official version was any mention of Bo, Wang's longtime boss and Gu's husband. Bo was removed as Chongqing's chief and suspended from the Politburo and his fate remains the thorniest issue his colleagues must still resolve.

The scandal would have gone unnoticed but for the involvement of a foreigner. Following British demands for a full investigation, Chinese leaders were forced to make public scandalous details that it would have preferred to keep private, further dirtying the Communist Party's already soiled image to the public.

The fall-out saw the Chinese leadership devote energies to damage control just as they were engaging in tricky back-channel politicking to choose the country's next generation of leaders.

Leaders must decide whether to expel Bo from the party and prosecute him, and differences are believed to have delayed announcing dates for a party congress to install the new leadership, though it is expected in coming weeks.

In the trial, Wang "did not raise objections" to the charges of defection, abuse of power, bribe-taking and bending the law for personal gain, and the court found him to be in "good health and stable mood," said court spokesman Yang Yuquan. Footage of the trial aired by state broadcaster showed Wang appearing somber but still looking young for his 52 years. Foreign media were barred from attending.

While prosecutors argued that as a senior official in possession of state secrets Wang's defecting was a serious, they and his lawyer also said that he surrendered to authorities, Yang said. Once in custody, Wang related his suspicions about Bo's wife — referred to in court documents as Bogu Kailai. Yang said that Wang also provided information that helped in investigating other people not named.

Wang "took the initiative to expose the Bogu Kailai murder case to relevant departments and made an important contribution to the solving of the case," Yang quoted Wang's lawyer as telling the court.

In the official account, the lawyer further argued "Wang had a reason for defecting" that he voluntarily left the consulate, and subsequently related the facts behind his defection accurately.