The suspended death penalty imposed on Gu Kailai neatly completes the official narrative that the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood was an exceptional case, the act of a single person under psychological stress. Gu will now disappear into the obscurity of what is likely to be life imprisonment. She has also been stripped of her political rights for life.
Suspended death sentences are typically commuted to life imprisonment after two years of good behavior. Her princeling connections will have contributed to the court’s leniency. So, too, will have her cooperation with authorities. She played what the court called “a positive role in the investigation,” did not contest the murder charge, which allowed a swift and unrevealing trial. Nor will she appeal the verdict.
That as good as wraps up the case while keeping at arms’ length politically awkward questions about what if any involvement there was on the part of Gu’s husband, the disgraced former Chongqing Party boss, Bo Xilai, in either the murder or in orchestrating its attempted cover-up by police, and, potentially more embarrassing for the Party leadership, about the web of probably corrupt but lucrative business deals that so enrich the families of the country’s political elite. The absence even of Bo’s name during Gu’s trial makes this the no-show show trial. But the Party can now deal with Bo as an internal disciplinary matter with his supporters and opponents among the senior leadership battling it out behind closed doors over the extent of Bo’s political castration. The rule of law has done its job–and the dust brushed under the carpet.