Former Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun, a protege of ousted Chinese Politburo member Bo Xilai, was convicted of charges related to the cover-up of a British businessman’s murder and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Wang was convicted today of all four charges against him, bribe-taking, abuse of power, defecting, and bending the law for selfish ends, said Yang Yuquan, a spokesman for Chengdu Intermediate People’s Court where the verdict was heard. Wang covered up evidence that Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, murdered the businessman, Neil Heywood, and blocked the investigation into the killing, Yang told reporters.
The conviction now turns the spotlight on Bo, who was considered a candidate for the ruling Politburo Standing Committee before the murder allegations against Gu. Bo’s March ouster as Chongqing party secretary sparked the party’s biggest crisis since the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and roiled planning for a once-in-a-decade leadership transition set to occur at a party congress this year.
“This middle way underscores the deep divisions among leaders about the Bo Xilai case but also the need to unify and move forward,” said Jean-Pierre Cabestan, head of the department of government and international studies at Hong Kong Baptist University, referring to the fact that Wang wasn’t given the maximum sentence. “An image of order, calm and harmony is badly needed.”
While Wang faced a maximum sentence of 20 years, his term was reduced because he provided evidence that helped solve the Heywood case, court spokesman Yang said. He said Wang would not appeal his sentence.
Wang fled to the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu in February carrying evidence that Gu murdered Heywood, according to U.S. officials briefed on the matter. Gu later confessed to poisoning Heywood because she believed he posed a threat to her son, Bo Guagua, as a result of a financial dispute, and was convicted Aug. 20 and sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve, according to the Xinhua News Agency.
After spending the night of Feb. 6 holed up in the consulate ringed by police, Wang turned himself in.
An official Xinhua account of Wang’s trial published Sept. 19 describes a Jan. 29 episode in which the “principal person” in charge of Chongqing -- Bo -- slapped Wang in a rage after Wang approached him about suspicions Gu was involved in Heywood’s murder. Wang later ordered people under him to obtain testimony about the murder and store it in a safe place, the Xinhua account said.
Wang “passed the physical video recording showing Gu Kailai being present at the murder scene back to her, in order to not implicate her in the investigation,” Yang said at today’s briefing.
While last week’s Xinhua report didn’t mention Bo by name, the reference to him may indicate that the party is marshaling evidence against him. Any such such action isn’t likely to take place before the leadership transition, which will be announced at the 18th Communist Party Congress set for sometime this year, analyst Steven Tsang said before the verdict.
“The party will deal with Bo after the party congress,” said Tsang, director of the China Policy Institute at the University of Nottingham in the U.K. “To deal with Bo Xilai requires a lot of careful balancing between the main power blocs.”
Bo, 63, was suspended as Communist Party chief of Chongqing in March and from the Politburo in April. He hasn’t been seen in public since the end of the National People’s Congress in Beijing in March.
“It appears that the evidence released against Bo in connection with the Wang Lijun case suggests that Bo could be charged for criminal offense if the Chinese leadership choose to do so,” Dali Yang, a political scientist at the University of Chicago and head of its Beijing center, said in an e-mail. “This would be harsher than the original speculation.”
Wang 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 beset by allegations of arbitrary arrests and beatings. Chongqing police arrested 1,544 people in the two months after the offensive started in June 2009, according to Xinhua.
Bo’s “Chongqing Model” emphasized state-led investment to ease wealth gaps between urban and rural residents. He also reintroduced songs and slogans from the era of Chairman Mao Zedong to re-instill a socialist spirit. In 2009, millions of Chongqing residents got quotes from Mao’s Little Red Book sent to their mobile phones.
China’s leaders have sought to portray Bo’s ouster as an aberration, not a reflection of deeper problems within the Communist Party.
“I hope the trial will issue a warning to society and let more people draw lessons from me,” Wang said at his trial, according to Xinhua. “For the Party organizations, people and relatives that have cared for me, I want to say here, sincerely, I’m very very sorry I’ve let you down.”
— With assistance by Liza Lin