Aug. 11 (Bloomberg) -- Gu Kailai, the wife of ousted Chinese Politburo member Bo Xilai, confessed to charges she used poison to kill a British businessman in his hotel room, according to China’s official news agency.
Gu admitted to dripping cyanide into Neil Heywood’s mouth as he lay drunk on his bed because she thought he had threatened her son, the Xinhua News Agency wrote in an account of the seven-hour trial in the eastern city of Hefei on Aug. 9. Zhang Xiaojun, an orderly in Gu’s house, confessed to aiding in the crime, Xinhua reported.
“This case has been like a huge stone weighing on me for more than half a year,” Xinhua cited Gu as saying at the end of the trial. “What a nightmare. During those days last November, I suffered a mental breakdown after learning that my son was in jeopardy. The tragedy which was created by me was not only extended to Neil, but also to several families.”
The trial was the most public part of a scandal that saw Bo’s ouster as Chongqing party chief in March and triggered the most serious political upheaval since the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. China’s state-run media have said it will strengthen people’s faith in the legal system, a message aimed at bolstering the legitimacy of the ruling Communist Party before a once-in-a-decade leadership transition later this year.
The verdict will be announced at a later date, according to Tang Yigan, vice president of the Hefei Intermediate People’s Court.
Four police officers admitted during a separate trial yesterday to involvement in covering up Gu’s actions, Tang said. Their actions included hiding physical evidence and fabricating interview records, Tang told a news conference yesterday. The court will deliver a verdict at a later date, Tang said.
The officers listed the cause of death as alcohol poisoning and didn’t file criminal charges after determining that Gu was “highly suspected” of committing the offense, Xinhua said. While Heywood’s body was cremated without an autopsy, examination of trace evidence later showed the presence of cyanide ions, it said.
Chinese officials had originally told U.K. authorities that Heywood died of alcohol poisoning.
Gu said in her testimony that Heywood wrote to her in 2005, when her son was studying in the U.K., to introduce himself, Xinhua reported. Gu had Heywood serve as a proxy for a company and to participate in planning a property project, which never got started, Xinhua said.
The two later had a falling out over payment and “other issues,” and Heywood wrote to Gu to threaten her son’s “personal safety,” Xinhua reported. Prosecutors introduced e-mails exchanged between Heywood and Gu into evidence, the news agency said.
“To me, that was more than a threat,” Gu said in testimony presented in court, according to Xinhua. “It was real action that was taking place. I must fight to my death to stop the craziness of Neil Heywood.”
Gu had been treated for chronic insomnia, anxiety and depression with drugs including anti-psychotics, anxiolytics, antidepressants and sedative hypnotic drugs, Xinhua said, citing an assessment by forensic psychiatrists.
While her dependence on hypnotics had caused “mental disorders,” Gu had a “clear goal and practical motive” for committing the crime and had planned ahead by obtaining the poison and arranging for Heywood’s visit to Chongqing, Xinhua reported.
She arranged for Chongqing government officials and Zhang to invite Heywood to Chongqing from Beijing, the court’s Tang said earlier.
On the night of Nov. 13, Gu and Zhang went to Heywood’s hotel room carrying a glass bottle of cyanide and a bottle of drug capsules, Xinhua said, citing Gu’s testimony. Gu gave the poison to Zhang, who waited outside, Xinhua said.
Heywood and Gu drank tea and wine together until Heywood fell drunk on the bathroom floor, Xinhua reported, citing testimony. Zhang then entered the room and moved Heywood to the bed, Xinhua said.
Gu then scattered the pills around the bed, to make it appear that Heywood had consumed the drugs, and poured cyanide compound into a small soy-sauce container she had prepared earlier, Xinhua said. After Heywood vomited and asked for water, she poured a mixture of water and cyanide compound into his mouth, the official news service said.
Physical proof, including surveillance video from the hotel and DNA and chemical trace evidence support this version of events, Xinhua reported.
Defense counsel for Gu and Zhang conducted briefings for them at the trial, and representatives of the victim’s family also spoke, Xinhua reported. In his final statement, Zhang confessed and apologized to Heywood’s family, it said.
Jiang Min, a Hefei-based lawyer who the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper said was assigned by the court to represent Gu, didn’t answer calls to his mobile phone on Aug. 9.
By choosing not to dispute the evidence against her, Gu may be trying to avoid a death sentence, said Zhang Ping, a Beijing-based criminal defense lawyer. “Gu was a lawyer herself so this process is not foreign to her,” he said.
The political context of the case and the manner in which court proceedings are conducted in China all point to a predetermined guilty verdict, Donald Clarke, a law professor at George Washington University, said before the trial started. Clarke said he expected Gu would be given a suspended death sentence.
The trial is a climax of the drama that began in February when the former police chief of Chongqing fled to the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu with evidence implicating Gu in Heywood’s murder, according to U.S. officials briefed on the matter. The diplomatic furor sparked by the incident presaged Bo’s ouster as Chongqing party chief.
There were more than 140 people present in the court, including members of Heywood’s family and friends, as well as British embassy and consular officials, media representatives and Chinese lawmakers and political advisers, Xinhua said.
For the wife of a Politburo member to be tried for murdering a foreigner is unparalleled in Chinese history, said Minxin Pei, a government professor at Claremont McKenna College in California. Only the prosecution of Jiang Qing, Gang of Four leader and the last wife of former leader Mao Zedong, has any similarities, he said.
Rule of Law
“The fact that we have a defendant like this can be seen as a step forward but just because this happened to them doesn’t mean we have the rule of law,” said Yan Yiming, a Shanghai-based trial lawyer. “The proceedings weren’t terribly transparent. For a trial to be truly open, anyone would have to be able to walk in.”
Gu is the youngest of five daughters of a People’s Liberation Army general, according to a Chinese-language website affiliated with the Communist Youth League. She rose from a butcher’s assistant during the 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution to become a lawyer who won a lawsuit in the U.S. and went on to write a book about the experience.
The handling of her trial has triggered criticism from international jurists. There’s no sign the authorities are adhering to laws that give the accused the right to see their lawyers, Jerome Cohen, a law professor at New York University, said before the trial.
“Gu has been alone with her accusers for months,” said Cohen. The case has shown “how limited the meaning of the rule of law is in China,” he said.
Tang said prosecutors in Hefei filed the charges on July 26 and that the court informed the defendants and Heywood’s family of their rights. The court also invited defense lawyers to meet and read through the entire case file, “fully protecting Gu and Zhang, and the victim’s family’s litigation rights,” he said.
To contact Bloomberg News staff for this story: Daryl Loo in Beijing at email@example.com; Debra Mao in Hong Kong at firstname.lastname@example.org; Kevin Hamlin in Beijing at email@example.com; Joshua Fellman in New York at firstname.lastname@example.org