Chinese state media on Wednesday for the first time mentioned disgraced politician Bo Xilai in connection with one of the trials springing from the scandal that ended his once-bright career and shook Beijing’s ruling elite.
In a lengthy description of a court case that ended Tuesday against Wang Lijun, Bo’s former police chief and vice mayor in the southwestern city of Chongqing, the Xinhua news service wrote that Wang reportedly told Bo on Jan. 28 that his wife was “highly suspected” of being involved in the murder of a British businessman.
Referring to Bo not by name but to his position as the “then leading official of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Chongqing Committee,” Xinhua said that on Jan. 29, “Wang Lijun was angrily rebuked and slapped in the face by the official” – Bo. Less than a week later, Wang was abruptly removed from his job as police chief.
The suggestion in Xinhua’s report, apparently culled from courtroom proceedings and testimony entered by prosecutors, was clear: Bo is complicit in covering up his wife’s crime.
Given the opaque nature of politics and the legal system in China, both of which the Communist Party controls, the truth of such assertions is not guaranteed. Bo was a controversial politician whose ambition, populist appeal and willingness to draw on Mao Zedong-era culture and symbols were controversial among some senior leaders.
The anecdote about the confrontation between Wang and Bo isn’t new. It had been repeated in various forms to foreign journalists visiting Chongqing over the months.
But its appearance in state media suggests that party leaders are considering criminal charges against Bo, who to date has been named, in April, as being suspected only of “serious discipline violations.”
A trial involving Bo, who’s the son of a legendary Chinese Communist Party figure and once was seen as destined for a seat at the highest levels of power in China, would be a deeply sensitive affair.
A party congress later this year is expected to usher in a changeover in national leadership, a process that’s thought to involve intense jockeying in a balance of factional interests that could be tipped by Bo being formally tried. National leaders are also no doubt concerned that delving into issues of abuse of power in Bo’s case could raise questions about Chinese officials in general.
The report Wednesday raised further questions about whether investigators are looking at Bo by listing incidents that involved two longtime associates of his, though that relationship wasn’t noted. Those incidents involved bribes from the Bo associates in 2008 and 2009 to Wang or his family. Wang later ordered people released from custody at the behest of the two men, Xinhua reported.
Xinhua also said that, “While being investigated, Wang produced important clues that exposed serious offenses committed by others. Such clues played a key role in the investigation of other cases.”
But it remains far from clear whether Bo will ever appear in court, or instead be handled by internal Communist Party disciplinary measures.
Eight days after his alleged confrontation with Bo, Wang fled to the U.S. consulate in the city of Chengdu, where he stayed overnight and reportedly repeated the allegation that Bo’s wife had killed a man. He surrendered to Chinese authorities the next day.
That set off the biggest political scandal in China in recent years and eventually resulted in Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, being sentenced last month to death, with a two-year reprieve that’s likely to be converted into a lengthy prison sentence. Gu had been found guilty of poisoning British businessman Neil Heywood at a Chongqing hotel in November after a business deal gone bad and, allegedly, Heywood threatening her son.
Xinhua reported that after falling out with Bo, Wang ordered subordinates to “re-obtain testimonies from witnesses” and preserve evidence including secret recordings of Gu confessing to the crime and blood extracted from Heywood’s heart.
In his final statement to the court, which is expected to return a sentence soon, Wang was quoted by Xinhua as confessing his guilt and saying, “I hope the trial will issue a warning to society and let more people draw lessons from me.”
Xinhua also quoted him as saying: “For the party organizations, people and relatives that have cared for me, I want to say here, sincerely, ‘I’m very, very sorry I’ve let you down.’ ”