Tag Archives: Gu Kailai

Bo Xilai: Brought Down, And Now Out

Bo Xilai, brought down in the most serious political corruption case to hit the Party in years, is now finally out. The disgraced former rising star has been expelled from the Party for taking bribes and his “grave responsibility” in the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood, a crime for which his wife, Gu Kailai, was convicted and his former right hand man, police chief Wang Lijun, was sentenced to prison for 15 years. Like Gu and Wang, the former Chongqing Party boss will now be prosecuted in court. The Party’s charges against him include maintaining “abnormal sexual relations with several women”. Interesting to see what, if anything, comes out in court about those, though they sound a bit smear-like to this Bystander. Either way, we expect a harsh sentence.

Bo’s trial would complete the ring fencing of an inconvenient scandal that the Party’s top leadership has worked hard to present as an isolated incident, not evidence of systemic corruption and an uncomfortably common connection between wealth and power. We expect a dose of congratulatory commentary in state media commending the Party for its steadfast fight against corruption and transparency in its self-discipline.

Yet Bo’s case has provided an awkward back drop to the run up to the leadership transition that, it has now been announced, will formally start at a Party congress called for November 8th. That is a further sign that the winners and losers have been settled in the in-fighting that the rest of the world doesn’t get to see. However, the very opacity of a system in which Party, state and government are effectively one, and power is founded on personal connections and factions, has been left looking increasingly antiquated for a modern state.

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Wang Fingers His Former Boss, Bo

The trial of ex-Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun has implicated for the first time the city’s disgraced Party boss Bo Xilai in the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood. Bo was not mentioned by name. Wang spoke of the “Chongqing committee’s main responsible person at the time”, but that would be Bo.

Wang was “angrily rebuked and had his ears boxed,” state media reported somewhat quaintly, for telling Bo that Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, was suspected of murdering Heywood, a crime to which Gu pleaded guilty at her trial last month. Wang also told the court of corruption cases involving close business associates of Bo.

Wang’s remarks brings a criminal prosecution of Bo a step closer, either for complicity in covering up Heywood’s death, or on politically more sensitive corruption charges. Either way a trial would complete the political downfall of a charismatic but divisive leader who only a few months ago had been seen as a leading candidate for promotion to the Politburo.

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Wang Lijun’s trial seeks to tidy up another loose end in the Bo case

Swift and measured justice is the order of the day in political China. Next week, Wang Lijun, 52, the former police chief and hatchet man for disgraced Chongqing party boss, Bo Xilai, will go on trial in Chengdu on charges of defection, taking bribes and legal surveillance.

The hearing isn’t likely to last more than a day. Not a lot of new detail will emerge.

Wang fled to the U.S. consulate in Chengdu in February, staying there for 24 hours and starting the chain of events that let to Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, being convicted for the murder of British businessmen Neil Heywood. State media has not said whether Wang intends to contest any of the charges against him–as Gu did not against hers–not that doing so would necessary reduce his chances of being convicted.

Bribery charges can be capital offenses and defection charges can carry life imprisonment. The Party leadership will want to maintain the narrative that it has been laying down, that this is a self-contained case and not one symptomatic of a deeper malaise within the Chinese body politic. Gu received a suspended death sentence last month after confessing to Heywood’s murder but going along with the Party line. Wang is likely to do the same.

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Justice Done And Dusted

The Hefei City Intermediate People's Court in east Anhui Province hands down the death sentence with a two-year reprieve to Gu Kailai for intentional homicide, August 20th, 2012

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.

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Worms And Elephants In The Gu Kailai Trial

This Bystander is starting to wonder which of the few but tantalizing details revealed at Gu Kailai’s brief trial for allegedly murdering British businessman Neil Heywood will open up the can of worms on which the Party is trying to keep a tight lid.

The court heard that Heywood demanded £13 million in compensation from Gu’s son, Bo Guagua, now studying in the U.S., for a failed property investment for which he had been promised ten times that much, and threatened to “destroy” Bo if payment was not forthcoming. The court also heard that former Chongqing police chief  Wang Lijun, who triggered the outing of the affair by making the murder allegations to the U.S. consulate in Chengdu, allegedly conspired with Gu to frame Heywood with a drugs bust, and then tried to cover up the Englishman’s murder after the event.

The first detail may lay end up laying bare the web of lucrative business dealings engaged in by  the country’s powerful politically elite, and their ability to transfer large sums of money out of China. The second pushes the Haywood murder closer to Gu’s husband, disgraced Chongqing Party boss Bo Xilai, to whom Wang was right-hand man and enforcer of the politician’s crackdown on organized crime in Chongqing. Bo, who is now under disciplinary investigation and who has not been seen in public for weeks, is the elephant in the courtroom in this case.

The former would be an embarrassment to the ruling elite, if no more than what most Chinese already assume to be the case. The second is far more awkward. It risks exposing not only political corruption but also the ugly infighting that led to Bo’s ousting, a marked contrast to the veneer of unity that the Party’s top leadership likes to portray.

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Gu Kailai Trial Closes

We said it would be swift. It was. Gu Kailai’s trial for the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood opened and closed within a day. A court official, reading from a statement outside the court, said that the wife of disgraced politician Bo Xilai did not contest the charge. He also said that it was Gu who poured the fatal poison into Heywood’s mouth. Her motive was said to be that she feared for the safety of her son in a dispute between Heywood over money. State media has a detailed account of the prosecutor’s case here.

The next step will be the announcement of the date of the verdict. Gu and family employee, Zhang Xiaojun, who was also charged in connection with Heywood’s death, both potentially face the death penalty. The emergence of a protection of her son line of defense may point to some clemency.

State media also report that four police officers would go on trial on Friday, accused of trying to protect Ms Gu from prosecution. All the loose ends are being neatly tied off.

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Gu Kailai Trail Opens

Gu Kailai’s murder trial has started. It will likely be a swift and underreported affair, with the verdict, if not necessarily the punishment, in little doubt. Top Party leaders have kept a tight grip on the judicial investigation and the political narrative so far. There is scant reason to suspect that will change on either front.

The trial is intended make two public points. First, that no Party member, their spouse or family is above the law, more particularly, that even a princeling family isn’t above the law if it poses a threat to the inner sanctum of Party power–and the individuals who wield it. Second, that Gu, and by extension her husband, the politically disgraced former Chongqing party boss Bo Xilai, are exceptional cases. Together the Party hopes that will ring fence an affair that has shaken it far more than it cares for.

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Bo Xilai’s Wife Charged With Murder

Gu Kailai, wife of disgraced for Chongqing party boss Bo Xilai, has been prosecuted for murder, according to state media. She and a family employee, Zhang Xiaojun, are said to have ‘recently’ faced court proceedings in connection with the suspected murder of British businessman Neil Heywood. Heywood was found dead in a hotel in Chongqing last November. He is believed to have been poisoned.

Bo’s fall was followed by greater openness on behalf of authorities about reports involving corruption on an immense scale. Party leaders face the challenge in the run up to a leadership transition that formally starts later this year of managing the corruption scandals in a way that doesn’t damage the Party’s long-term credibility and put at risk its authority to hold a monopoly on political power. Hence the development of an official narrative that Bo and Gu are an exceptional case being handled through ordinary legal proceedings.

Gu’s treatment suggests that the leadership is having to take the process of rule of law seriously even if her trial is a showcase of the claim that nobody in China is above the law. Whether justice or the law will be served in the long term is yet to be determined. As state media put it,

The facts of the two defendants’ crime are clear, and the evidence is irrefutable and substantial. Therefore, the two defendants should be charged with intentional homicide.

The Hefei Intermediate People’s Court has received the case according to law, and will hold a trial on a day to be decided.

Little doubt in this Bystander’s mind about the likely verdicts.

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Reading Between The Lines Of The Official Bo Xilai Narrative

There are three aspects to a leadership transition, a well-connected Chinese economist told this Bystander: the personal and factional jockeying for power; the ideological/directional debates; and the exceptional cases. The downfall of Bo Xilai, now stripped of all his Party posts, falls into the third category, she reckons, though it clearly cuts across the first two.

The new left–the neo-Comms and Maoist revivalists, among whose number Bo was counted–have been put on the back foot by Bo’s ousting. The relatively small number of places in the new Politburo and its all-important standing committee, the inner sanctum of Party power, have likely been already broadly decided, but the reformers should now be able to put more of their supporters into key positions in the bureaucracy and provincial government. The neo-Comms and Maoist revivalists have not necessarily lost the ideological debate, or at least not definitely. Bo was both a populist and popular. Support for his ideas persists both among the public and within the Party, if not sufficient to save his political career.

There is likely to be a show of consensus, however. Top Party leaders will seek to keep a tight grip on the judicial investigation into Bo, his wife Gu Kailai and the former head of the Chongqing police, Wang Lijun, whose visit to the U.S. consulate triggered this incident, and where, it now emerges, the first accusation was made that British businessman and Bo family associate, Neil Heyward, had been murdered, with Gu and a family employee involved.

What needs watching is how the official narrative of Bo and his wife is played out. State media are starting to lay down the exceptional-case story, and emphasizing that no Party member, their spouse or family is above the law, even if that family is a princeling–or, more particularly to our eye, that even a princeling family isn’t above the law if it embarrasses the Party or puts political stability at risk .

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Beijing Shakes As Bo Xilai Suspended From Politburo

As aftershocks go, this will have stronger reverberations than even the original earthquake. Bo Xilai, the sacked Party boss of Chongqing, has been suspended from the Politburo and the Central Committee for suspected “serious violations of discipline”. His wife, Gu Kailai, has been placed under judicial investigation, along with a family employee, Zhang Xiaojun, in connection with the death of a British businessman and long-time family associate, Neil Heyward, who was found dead in a hotel room in the city last November. State media say police are now considering it to be a murder case.

Bo’s fall from grace has already sent tremors through Chinese politics in the run up to a leadership transition in which he had been expected to be promoted to the Party’s ruling inner sanctum, the Politburo standing committee. One of the Party’s rising leaders and, like his wife, a princeling, the charismatic and popular Bo’s sacking triggered–or was triggered by, it is hard to be sure in the opaque world of Party politicking at the highest level–the biggest political crisis since 1989 and the days of Tiananmen Square.

What comes next is anyone’s guess, or at least of anyone outside Zhongnanhai, the leaders’ compound in Beijing. There is a deep, if not clean factional divide between those who want the Party’s legitimacy to monopoly rule to be based on ideology derived from the mandate of Mao (in which camp Bo and his supporters fall), and those who wish to continue to base that legitimacy on the Party’s ability to go on delivering rising living standards for all Chinese, a course that now turns on scaling back the state’s role in the economy and giving the private sector more scope to expand. That raises, first, the question of how far can the Party scale back its economic control without yielding political control, and, second, how to deal with the challenge economic reform poses to many of the vested interests among the princelings and the military who derive their power, money and influence from the institutions and honeypots of a heavily state-directed economy.

Bo’s suspension from the Politburo means he has now lost all his key Party posts. As such it marks an important turn in that debate. How its consequences will shake out, and particularly if there will be a wider purge of the old guard — Zhou Yongkang, the Party’s security head and considered a Bo ally, may be the key figure to watch in this regard — takes a braver observer than this Bystander to hazard guesses at at this point. The political ground in Beijing is still shaking, and we are yet to see who else will be rattled.

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