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Gu Kailai, the wife of the detained politician Bo Xilai, may spend as little as nine years in jail after being convicted this morning of murdering the English businessman Neil Heywood.
The China Inventory

Gu, 53, admitted luring Mr Heywood from Beijing to Chongqing, where she got him drunk on whisky and poured a cocktail of vermin poison down his throat.

A court spokesman said she had been given a suspended death sentence, which is considered lenient in a country that probably executes more prisoners than the rest of the world put together.

Suspended death sentence ... Gu Kailai.
Suspended death sentence … Gu Kailai. Photo: AP

The spokesman, Tang Yigan, said her actions reflected a ‘‘psychological impairment’’, which experts say could pave the path for an early medical parole.

‘‘Her imprisonment could be as little as nine years,’’ said the rights group Dui Hua. ‘‘The vast majority of sentences of death with two-year reprieve – an estimated 99.9 percent in 1995 – are commuted to life imprisonment after two years, and people serving life sentences are eligible for medical parole after as little as seven years.’’

Gu’s accessory and family retainer Zhang Xiaojun, was given nine years’ jail.

Four police officers were sentenced to between five and 11 years in jail for covering up the killing. All four were senior officers in Chongqing, the southwestern Chinese megacity Mr Bo ran until he was sacked earlier this year, and where Mr Heywood’s lifeless body was discovered in a hotel room last November.

The four, identified as Guo Weiguo, Li Yang, Wang Pengfei and Wang Zhi, had been charged with atempting to conceal Gu Kailai’s involvement in Mr Heywood’s death by ‘‘forging interview scripts and concealing evidence’’.

Gu’s murder trial is one of the most politically important since Chairman Mao’s widow, Jiang Qing, was on trial in a great court case saga in December 1980.

The verdict has implications for Mr Bo, who is being detained by the Party’s discipline apparatus on unspecified but “serious” violations.

As well as being the husband of Mr Bo, the fallen princeling leader, Gu is the daughter of a powerful general in the People’s Liberation Army. Her 90 year-old aging mother is a feisty revolutionary veteran.

“The fact that her sentence has been suspended will imply to many that she’s been given a break given her powerful background,” said Joshua Rosenzweig, a Hong Kong-based expert on the Chinese criminal justice system.

“But being legally trained, Gu knows how the criminal justice system works in China.”

At her seven-hour trial on August 9 she was allowed to wear casual clothes and be unfettered by wrist shackles, in contrast to most who are brought before the courts for far lesser crimes.

The court went out of its way to publicise Gu’s co-operation, including admitting every aspect of the prosecution case and informing on the “serious crimes of others”, despite her lawyer raising serious questions about the logic and integrity of the prosecutions case.

Many close political observers and lawyers in Beijing believe Gu’s murder conviction was the result of a complex deal, at the top level of the Party, which paves the way for her husband to be possibly charged with covering up the murder – while insulating others from the fall-out.

The court heard that Gu informed Mr Bo’s police chief, Wang Lijun, of her murder plans hours before she did it, on November 13 last year, and that he helped cover up the crime, according to unofficial accounts of proceedings.

She debriefed him after the event, on November 14, not knowing that he was secretly recording the conversation of her complicity, according to unofficial accounts of the murder trial proceedings.

The case came to light only after  Mr Bo and  Mr Wang fell out and Mr Wang fled to the US Consulate in Chengdu on February 6, holding evidence of the crime and revealing sordid details. Mr Wang is expected to be tried within a matter of weeks.

Gu’s accessory in murder, 33 year-old Zhang Xiaojun, also was employed at the Chongqing Communist Party’s General Office.

Zhang expressed to the court that he wanted to say “sorry” to the relatives of the victim. “I really know that I did wrong.”

Gu acknowledged causing a “tragedy” for a number of families, including Heywood’s. In contrast with Zhang, who focused on the damage she had caused to the Party’s reputation rather than the morality & morbidity of her action.

“The case has produced great losses to the Party and the country, for which I should shoulder the responsibility, and I will never feel at ease,” she told the court, in a closing statement.

“I solemnly herein advise the court that in order to maintain the dignity of the law, I will dutifully accept and calmly face any sentence handed down and I also expect a fair and just court decision,” she said.

The British Embassy issued a cautiously-worded announcement after this morning’s verdict.

“We welcome the fact that the Chinese authorities have investigated the death of Neil Heywood, and tried those they identified as being responsible,” said the embassy statement.

“We time and time again made clear to the Chinese authorities that we wanted to see the trials in this court case conform to international human rights standards and for the death penalty not to be applied.”

The embassy statement fell far short of Foreign Secretary Willian Hague’s April 17 insistance that “full investigation that observes due process, is free from political interference, exposes the truth behind this tragic case, and ensures that justice is done & is seen to be done.”

A number of observers, on the left and right of Chinese politics, have ridiculed evidentiary, processory and logical gaps in the prosecution’s case.

Debate continues to rage via the internet about whether the defendant shown on television was in fact Gu or a body double.

Ridicule of the justice process & self serving statements”Lies have to be used to cover up lies, leading to an impossible situation where the story doesn’t hold together and it becomes a satire of justice,” wrote He Weifang, professor of law at Peking University.
The China Inventory

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