Chinese official's wife admits killing British businessman, court says
Gu Kailai, critic of the U.S. justice system and the wife of former Politburo member Bo Xilai, was on the receiving end of Chinese justice Thursday.
Los Angeles Times
BEIJING — After O.J. Simpson was acquitted of murder in 1995, a well-connected Chinese lawyer pointed to the case as proof of the failure of the U.S. judicial system.
"An American trial always gives bad people a chance to take advantage of the loopholes," the lawyer, Gu Kailai, wrote in a 1998 book about her experiences working in the United States. "The Chinese judicial system is fairest. ... If you kill somebody, they'll arrest you, try you and shoot you."
On Thursday, Gu, the wife of former Politburo member Bo Xilai, was on the receiving end of Chinese justice. She appeared in court on charges of poisoning British businessman Neil Heywood.
Lawyers took seven hours to present evidence in the case. There was no jury at Hefei Intermediate People's Court, no defense counsel to cross-examine witnesses — hardly any witnesses. The evidence was presented in the form of prepared statements, with the exception of forensic evidence showing that Heywood had been poisoned.
At the end of the session in Hefei, in eastern China, a court official held a news conference at a nearby hotel to announce that Gu, 53, and a co-defendant, Zhang Xiaojun, 33, her family's butler, had confessed to murdering Heywood.
"The defendants did not dispute the accusation of intentional homicide," the deputy director of the court, Tang Yigan, told foreign reporters, who had been kept away from the courthouse.
Despite the reported confessions, the court's official verdict will be handed down at the same time as sentencing.
Heywood, 41, a longtime family friend, was found dead Nov. 15 in a hotel room in Chongqing, the central city where Bo was Communist Party secretary.
Tang said Gu had invited Heywood to visit her in Chongqing with the intention of killing him because of a financial dispute.
At the hotel, she and Heywood drank. After getting drunk and vomiting, Heywood asked for water. But the water he was given was poisoned.
"All the facts are clear and the evidence sufficient," Tang said.
Although Heywood's body was promptly cremated, a police official had taken a blood sample. Closed-circuit video showed Gu going into the hotel room where the body was later found.
Gu was taken into custody in March, under a form of extrajudicial detention known as shuanggui, which is reserved for Communist Party members and officials. Although her family and Zhang's hired defense lawyers, they were not permitted to meet with the defendants and the lawyers were not in court. Instead, the court assigned attorneys to represent them.
"The criminal law says a defendant can hire his own lawyer, but in a sensitive case like this, the government didn't want to take any chances," said Si Weijiang, a criminal defense attorney in Beijing. "They wanted to control the outcome and make sure the lawyers didn't leak to the press."
Chinese law carries the death penalty for premeditated murder, but there are hints Gu will be spared, with the blame increasingly placed on Heywood.
The statement read by Tang said Gu believed that "Heywood physically endangered the physical safety of her son."
The statement also said Zhang should get a lesser sentence than hers.
Heywood had lived in China for nearly two decades and was married to a Chinese woman, with whom he had two children. His and Gu's families were close and he had helped her son, Bo Guagua, now 24, get into his alma mater, the prestigious Harrow boarding school in London.
The exact nature of the spat is unclear. Chinese investigators have been investigating claims that Gu, a successful lawyer in her own right, sent millions of dollars of possibly illegal earnings abroad through Heywood and other foreign businessmen. Heywood, some suggest, threatened to blow the whistle on Gu and her son.
The case has rattled the Communist Party in the run-up to a once-in-a-decade power transition this fall.
Bo was seen as a leading contender for the all-powerful Standing Committee of the Politburo until his downfall 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 of Heywood's death and was threatening police who tried to probe further.