China’s most politically sensitive trial in three decades ended in just about seven hours on Thursday after the wife of ousted Politburo member Bo Xilai did not contest charges of murdering a British businessman, a court official said.
A verdict will be delivered at a later date.
The official’s account of the closed-door hearing in the eastern Chinese city of Hefei signals that Gu Kailai and a family aide are sure to be convicted in a case that has ended her husband’s career and rocked China’s leadership.
“The trial finished this afternoon and the court adjourned,” official Tang Yigan told reporters. “The trial committee will announce the verdict after discussion. The date of the verdict will be announced.
“The accused (Gu) Kailai and Zhang Xiaojun did not raise objections to the facts and the charges of intentional homicide.”
Ms. Gu’s trial is seen by many Chinese as part of a push against Mr. Bo, an ambitious populist who made powerful enemies as he campaigned to join the next generation of top central leaders.
Mr. Bo was formerly considered a contender for the inner sanctum of power - the party’s Politburo Standing Committee - in a once-in-a-decade leadership transition that is currently underway. The new leadership is expected to be unveiled in October.
Ms. Gu and her co-accused were charged with poisoning Briton Neil Heywood, a family friend, last year. The official said the court was told Mr. Zhang, the family aide, had put poison in a drink of water that Ms. Gu then gave to Mr. Heywood who was drunk at the time.
His body was found last November in a hotel in Chongqing, the city where Mr. Bo was the Communist Party chief.
Ms. Gu and Mr. Zhang face the death penalty if convicted. But many legal experts expect Ms. Gu will be convicted but only sentenced to a lengthy jail term.
Entry to the courtroom, in the capital of Anhui province, was restricted but two British diplomats were invited to be present because of the nationality of the victim. Journalists were not allowed in.
As the trial took place, police dragged away two Bo supporters into an unmarked car after they had appeared outside the courthouse, singing patriotic songs that were the trademark of Mr. Bo’s populist leadership style and condemning the trial as a sham.
“I don’t believe it. This case was decided well in advance,” Hu Jiye, a middle-aged man wearing a T-shirt and baseball cap, told foreign reporters at the rear of the court building, which was cordoned off by dozens of police standing in heavy rain.
Mr. Hu and his friend were then shoved by plainclothed police into a car. His companion, also a middle-aged man, struggled, yelling “Why are you taking me? Why are you taking me?”
State censorship of Internet chatter on the trial was swifter than normal on Thursday, with users of China’s popular Twitter-like service Sina Weibo playing cat and mouse with censors to discuss the case, using word play to to try and get around the controls.
Ms. Gu, herself a career lawyer, was defended by a state-appointed lawyer with meagre experience in criminal cases, leaving little doubt she will be convicted.
The state has decided who would represent Ms. Gu, denying her the use of a family lawyer - a move that has also prompted Ms. Gu’s 90-year-old mother, Fan Xiucheng, to recently complain to the Justice Ministry, according to a source close to the family.
“The answer (from the ministry) was that the legal process did not have to be fully carried out in this case and that Fan should stop pestering them,” the source said.
The trial of Ms. Gu, glamorous daughter of the ruling Communist Party aristocracy, is the most sensational since the conviction of the Gang of Four more than 30 years ago for crimes during the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution.
But despite British calls for the case to be handled fairly and to unearth the truth around Mr. Heywood’s death, her defence was instead been entrusted to two provincial lawyers.
The two lawyers, Jiang Min and Zhou Yuhao, could not be reached for comment but a search of public information shows the more senior attorney, Mr. Jiang, is a specialist in financial cases and that neither has any obvious connection to the Bo family.
A newspaper profile of Mr. Jiang from 2005, which was posted on Mr. Jiang’s own website, quoted him as saying that he was “an expert in financial law, who rarely conducts criminal defences”, although he has represented some officials accused of corruption in the more than 20 years he has been practising law.
Little is known of Ms. Gu’s other lawyer, Mr. Zhou, except that he, like Mr. Jiang, is from Anhui province. Provincial capital Hefei is a bustling city more than 1,000 kilometres east of the scene of the alleged crime - Chongqing, the vast municipality formerly ruled by Mr. Bo.
Police sources initially claimed Ms. Gu had poisoned Mr. Heywood in a dispute over an illicit financial transaction she had wanted him to help her complete, and they portrayed Ms. Gu as a greedy wife who was translating her husband’s connections into dollars.
But when Ms. Gu was formally indicted, the official allegation instead hinted at a personal motive, saying Mr. Heywood had made unspecified threats against her son Bo Guagua, a factor that may count as a mitigating circumstance and help Ms. Gu avoid execution.
The younger Mr. Bo, who is believed to be still in the United States after graduating from Harvard this summer, told CNN in an e-mail that he had submitted a witness statement to the court.
“I hope that my mother will have the opportunity to review them,” he added. “I have faith that facts will speak for themselves.” CNN said he did not elaborate.
The trial and sentencing of both Ms. Gu and Mr. Zhang are widely seen as a prelude to a possible criminal prosecution of Mr. Bo, who is being detained for violating party discipline - an accusation that covers corruption, abuse of power and other misdeeds.
Mr. Bo, who was a favourite of party leftists by promoting himself as a friend of the poor and an enemy of corruption, was sacked as Chongqing party chief in March after his police chief, Wang Lijun, identified Ms. Gu as a suspect in Mr. Heywood’s death.
On Thursday morning, there was no sign of Ms. Gu’s elderly mother, nor of any members of Heywood’s family in or around the courtroom.
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