Wang Lijun, the former Chongqing police chief whose flight to a U.S. diplomatic post in February sparked China’s biggest political upheaval in a generation, confessed to defecting during a two-day trial that ended today.
Wang’s actions were “very serious” and his cover-up of the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood broke the law, Chengdu Intermediate People’s Court spokesman Yang Yuquan said at a briefing. The court will announce its verdict against Wang “at a later time,” Yang said.
The wrapping up of Wang’s trial signals that China’s Communist Party, which undergoes a once-a-decade leadership transition this year, will now turn to the fate of his former boss, ex-Chongqing Party Secretary Bo Xilai. The downfall of Bo, who was suspended from the ruling Politburo in April, threw the transition of power into turmoil as China experienced its worst leadership crisis since the Tiananmen Square protests.
“It looks like they are carefully closing doors left open, one by one,” said Francois Godement, a professor of political science at Sciences Po in Paris who advises the French foreign ministry on Asian affairs. “It does not mean they won’t purge him, but I would bet he’ll never be charged in court. Even a trial of a few hours would be too sensitive and risky.”
Wang, 52, headed Chongqing’s police force from 2009 until early February. He oversaw a crackdown on gangs that raised the profile of Bo’s “Chongqing model,” with its focus on getting tough on crime and fighting social inequality. The campaign against organized crime, called “da hei,” or “strike black,” was accompanied by allegations of arbitrary arrests and beatings.
Wang employed illegal “technical reconnaissance measures” against “many people on multiple occasions,” the official Xinhua News Agency said today. It said he used the methods either without official approval or by forging documents.
After his removal as police chief, announced on Feb. 2, Wang fled to the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu, where he told diplomats that Bo’s wife Gu Kailai murdered Heywood, according to U.S. officials briefed on the matter. After a night with American officials that saw the consulate compound ringed by police, Wang turned himself over to government authorities.
In a closed-door hearing Monday, Wang was tried on charges of defecting and abusing power. In his trial today, Wang faced charges of bribery and bending the law for personal gain.
“Prosecutors said Wang knew perfectly well” that Gu was under suspicion of homicide, “but he deliberately covered up for her,” the Xinhua News Agency said today. “The circumstances are especially serious.”
Wang may be shown leniency because he helped investigators with the murder case against Gu and because he surrendered to Chinese authorities, according to Yang. Gu was convicted and given a suspended death sentence last month for murdering Heywood.
“The accused Wang Lijun voluntarily gave himself up after defecting and provided the main reason behind his defection,” Yang said in the statement. Wang was charged with taking 3.05 million yuan ($482,600) in bribes, he said.
Police today cordoned off the main gate to the courthouse and reporters trying to attend the trial were barred from going inside.
Bo, 63, committed “serious violations of discipline” in the case, Xinhua reported in April. He has not been publicly charged with any crime and hasn’t been seen in public since the end of the National People’s Congress in Beijing in March.
“The real wider significance of the case is to find pointers on how Bo will be treated,” said Steven Tsang, director of the China Policy Institute at the University of Nottingham in the U.K. “I am skeptical that the Bo case will be released ahead of or at the Party Congress. He will be dropped from the Politburo but a full solution over his case may take longer.”