A finding of guilt could result in anything from 10 years in prison to execution, and party leaders almost certainly have spent a lot of time thinking about the impact any penalty will have on public opinion. Harsh punishment without a convincing argument could provoke a backlash.
It’s also not known what the party’s propaganda calculations are for how to stage the trial. Would it be better to have a carefully choreographed event aired in public, keep it closed to all but a few or simply note the result in a subsequent state news item?
“With a case like this, with a lot of attention and sensitivity, the verdict is not going to be decided by a judge from the . . . intermediate people’s court,” Mo said.
That is, the party, not the jurist, will call the shots.
When it was reported over the weekend that Gu had accepted court-appointed counsel, after being denied the use of her own lawyers, some on the Twitter-like site Sina Weibo immediately voiced concern..
“Depriving the right to hire one’s own lawyers is equivalent to forcing the defendant to give up their own defense, and turning the trial into a lynching,” a user in Shanghai wrote.
The Global Times, an influential state-controlled tabloid, tried last week to curb that sort of sentiment: “We believe the court can live up to the expectations of the public and deliver a fair trial. This is a criminal case, and society should see it as one. The public should adopt this attitude.”
The trial will be in the city of Hefei in China’s eastern province of Anhui, more than 600 miles from Chongqing. It’s customary for high-profile official corruption cases to be tried outside the original jurisdiction to avoid interference by partisans of the accused.
However, the selection of Anhui raised eyebrows in some circles: It’s the home province of President Hu Jintao and Wang Shengjun, the head of the nation’s supreme court. The two men are seen as allies.
“I think it’s more than mere coincidence that Hefei was chosen, because . . . for many years (Wang) ran the political-legal system that controls the judges, the prosecutors and the police in that whole province,” Cohen said.
Cohen summed up the situation: “If you want to have a tightly scripted scenario, this is a way to do it.”
Gu’s Anhui-based legal team has had very little time to review the facts at hand. It probably will be afforded scant access to Gu before the trial, and their discussions are likely to be monitored.
Once the trial begins, Cohen said, prosecutors might follow the usual practice of reading witness testimony into the court record, meaning that defense attorneys have no ability to cross-examine.
Whatever becomes of Gu, the question of how the party will handle her husband looms. So far Bo hasn’t been charged with any crime. Xinhua said in April that he was “suspected of being involved in serious discipline violations.” That language usually suggests corruption.
The Communist Party, though, would need to approach the subject carefully. For instance, Bloomberg News published an analysis in April that found Gu’s sisters had amassed holdings worth at least $126 million. Whispers of corruption followed.
In June, Bloomberg examined the wealth of the extended family of Xi Jinping, the man slated to be China’s next president. The report was careful to say that the investments and assets it unearthed couldn’t be traced to Xi, and it didn’t include liabilities. Still, it listed real estate and company resources of about $450 million, plus an indirect stake in a separate firm worth more than $311 million – figures far higher than those of the Gu sisters.