College Times

Chinese official's wife admits poisoning British bu

By Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times

Published: Thursday, August 9, 2012

Updated: Thursday, August 9, 2012

 

BEIJING - Gu Kailai, the wife of a Chinese Politburo member, and her butler
both admitted poisoning a British businessman with whom the family had a
financial dispute, a court official told reporters in a press conference
Thursday.

At the end of a daylong trial in the provincial capital of Hefei, deputy court
director Tang Yigan said that "the defendants did not dispute the accusation
of intentional homicide" _ or what in American legal terms would be called
premeditated murder.

In the most detailed public airing in the salacious murder case rocking the
Chinese Communist Party, Tang said that in November Gu, 54, had lured the
victim, 41-year-old Neil Heywood, to Chongqing, where her husband, Bo Xilai,
served until recently as party secretary. At the Lucky Holiday Hotel where
Heywood was staying, the two drank tea and alcohol together. When Heywood got
drunk and began to throw up, he requested a glass of water, which was supplied
by the family's butler, Zhang Xiaojun.

"Bogu Kailai asked Zhang to pour the pre-prepared poison into Neil Heywood's
mouth," said Tang, referring to her by her married name. "All the facts are
clear and the evidence sufficient."

Despite the confession, a formal verdict has yet to be delivered by the court
and Tang did not say when that would take place. Under the Chinese legal
system, the sentence is handed down at the same time.

Chinese law carries the death penalty for premeditated murder, but the court
official hinted that the court might show her lenience. Tang said that Gu and
her son, 24-year-old Bo Guagua, had a financial dispute with Heywood and Gu
believed that "Heywood physically endangered the physical safety of her son."

"The lawyers of the defendants brought up that the victim is partially
responsible for causing the crime," Tang said in the press conference. "When
Bogu Kailai committed her crime, her ability to control her actions was weaker
than an ordinary person."

In calculated leaks to Chinese-language media abroad, officials have suggested
before that Gu was mentally ill.

Heywood's body was discovered in his hotel room Nov. 15, which as coincidence
has it was also Gu's birthday. Friends have speculated that she might have
lured him to Chongqing to celebrate her birthday. Heywood had lived in China
for nearly two decades and was an old friend of the family and a mentor to the
couple's son, Bo Guagua, whom he had helped get into his own alma mater, the
prestigious Harrow boarding school in London.

The exact nature of the spat is unclear. Chinese investigators have been
probing allegations that Gu, a successful lawyer in her own right who used to
represent companies doing business in her husband's jurisdiction, sent
millions of dollars of possibly illegal earnings abroad through Heywood and
other foreign businessmen. Heywood, some suggest, was not being well-paid and
threatened to blow the whistle on both Gu and her son, who was living in
expensive apartments abroad and seen driving luxury cars.

Bo Guagua, who recently graduated from Harvard's Kennedy School, is believed
to be in hiding in the United States, fearful of returning to China. In a
statement e-mailed to CNN earlier in the week, he wrote, "As I was cited as a
motivating factor for the crimes accused of my mother, I have already
submitted my witness statement. I hope that my mother will have the
opportunity to review them. ... I have faith that the facts will speak for
themselves."

The evidence at the trial was presented mainly in the form of sworn
statements. The only live witness was apparently a forensic scientist who
presented a report on samples taken from Heywood's body before it was cremated.

The trial took place in the heavily guarded Hefei Intermediate Court with
foreign press standing out in the pouring rain, the aftermath of a typhoon. A
handful of well wishers, supporters of Bo Xilai who alleged the case is
political persecution, were quickly nabbed by police. The only foreigners
allowed inside were apparently two officials of the British Embassy.

Both Gu and Zhang were represented by court-appointed attorneys and lawyers
hired by their families were not permitted to meet with them or to attend.

Nevertheless, the Chinese government appeared to take pains to show that the
trial was fair and open, holding a press conference at the hotel, a rare
concession to human rights activists and media who complained about the closed
trial.

"We have allowed the lawyers of the defendants to review all the court
documents to ensure the legal rights of the defendants and the victim's
family," Tang said.

The sensational murder case has rattled the Communist Party in the run-up to a
once-in-a-decade power transition this fall.

Bo, a charming populist with a following among the stauncher Maoists, was seen
as a leading contender for the all-powerful Standing Committee of the
Politburo until his downfall earlier this year. He was removed from all his
posts in March after Wang Lijun, the police chief in Chongqing, fled to a
nearby U.S. consulate alleging that Bo had quashed an investigation into
Heywood's death and was threatening police who tried to probe further. It is
unclear whether Bo will be charged with obstruction of justice or with
financial crimes that remain under investigation.

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