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Wife of Chinese Politico Didn’t Contest Murder Charges in One-Day Court Trial

August 9, 2012 at 12:00 AM EST
Court officials say that the facts and evidence against murder suspect Gu Kailai, wife of former Chinese politician Bo Xilai, are clear. Gu is said to have poisoned British businessman Neil Heywood after he refused to smuggle money out of China on Kailai's behalf. John Sparks of Independent Television News reports.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: The woman at the center of one of China’s most politically explosive trials didn’t contest charges of murder at a hearing today.

John Sparks of Independent Television News filed this report.

JOHN SPARKS: The city of Hefei was wet and unwelcoming. And that’s probably the way the Chinese Communist Party wanted it, the court complex playing host to a one-day trial, a murder case that the country’s rulers will be keen to see the back of.

Still, it’s not a story that can be tucked away, and the state news agency was there to record it.

In the dock, Gu Kailai, the wife of a famous politician accused of killing a British businessman called Neil Heywood, along with her assistant, Zhang Xiaojun.

U.K. diplomats were invited to watch, but the verdict’s not in doubt. Gu Kailai chose not to contest the charges.

“The criminal facts are clear and the evidence is solid,” said a court official.

Gu Kailai is married to Bo Xilai, considered until recently to be a rising political star. Together, they were one of the most powerful couples in the country.

They used Neil Heywood as a personal adviser until his death last November. One of Mr. Heywood’s duties was organizing the education of the couple’s son, Bo Guagua, who attended several elite British institutions.

But she had bigger plans in mind. This businessman said she asked Neil Heywood and himself to help smuggle money out of China. Their refusal infuriated her.

GILES HALL, businessman: She got cross and she was angry about it. And we were, in fact, told at one time that if we did go to China, that she would throw us in jail and we might never get out.

JOHN SPARKS: The court said Mr. Heywood was poisoned in a villa tucked round the back of a hotel in the city of Chongqing. Heywood and Gu had been drinking alcohol together when he asked for a glass of water.

It was then, said the court, that she poured the poison into his mouth. As for motive, well, they’d fallen out over money, and Heywood had threatened her child. This murky tale may have remained a secret in Chongqing had Bo Xilai, the former city governor, not fallen out with his police chief, Wang Lijun.

In February, Mr. Wang raced out of the city towards the nearest U.S. Consulate, where he told American officials he thought Bo’s family was involved in Heywood’s murder and brought an end to Bo Xilai’s political career, this, a man once destined for the top. His supporters had even written songs about him.

MAN (singing): Xilai, Bo Xilai.

JOHN SPARKS: But his fall from grace would reveal the sort of political infighting and corruption that the party would prefer to keep hidden.

Formal charges are not been laid against Bo Xilai, and the party may feel his wife’s conviction, accompanied by a long jail term, will put this embarrassing affair to rest.