Bo's ex-police chief on 'open' trial

2012-09-18 09:00

Chengdu - An ex-police chief who triggered the Chinese Communist party's biggest scandal in years just months ahead of a sensitive leadership change went on "open trial" on Tuesday.

But foreign media were barred from the hearing against Wang Lijun, underlining the significance of the case involving the former right-hand man of disgraced politician Bo Xilai.

The official news agency Xinhua said Wang faced charges of bribe-taking and bending the law for selfish ends on Tuesday, following a closed-door trial on Monday for defection and abuse of power.

A spokesperson for the Chengdu Intermediate People's Court said: "The open trial has started and is in progress," but declined to go into details about the hearings.

Police cordoned off the area in front of the courthouse, with dozens of policemen visible around the perimeter as commuters sped past on electric bikes.

Wang fled to the US consulate in Chengdu, in southwest China, in February, setting in motion a political crisis that exposed deep divisions within the upper echelons of Chinese politics ahead of a generational transfer of power.

Relations turned sour

The scandal led to the sacking of Bo, one of China's most high-profile political figures, and the conviction of his wife Gu Kailai for the murder of a British businessman.

Wang, aged 52, was drafted in by Bo, then the top Communist party official in the sprawling metropolis of Chongqing, to mastermind a crackdown on the local mafia, which Bo hoped would propel him into the top ranks of Chinese politics.

But relations between Bo and Wang turned sour early this year, months after British businessman Neil Heywood, a close associate of Bo's family, was found dead in a Chongqing hotel room.

Wang fled to the US consulate after an apparent dispute with the politician, reportedly telling officials that Bo's wife had murdered Heywood.

Gu was convicted of Heywood's murder by a Chinese court last month and given a suspended death sentence - normally commuted to life imprisonment - after a short trial that was thought to be subject to heavy political interference.

The proceedings against Wang will be closely watched for clues about the fate of Bo, who has not been seen in public for months and is currently believed to be under house arrest.

'Political arrangement'

But analysts said that because of the case's political sensitivity it would be carefully stage-managed by party officials.

"All we will see is what the party would like us to see," Steve Tsang, professor of contemporary Chinese studies at the University of Nottingham, said in e-mailed comments.

"If there is no mention of Bo it would imply that the leadership still cannot agree on what to do with him."

City University of Hong Kong political analyst Joseph Cheng said: "It's a political arrangement, rather than an independent judicial trial.

"The verdict will relate to a political agreement amongst top Chinese leaders to limit the fallout from the Bo Xilai case."

One key issue is whether the official account of the trial will mention allegations Wang carried out extensive phone tapping of senior officials who visited Chongqing, even recording a conversation involving President Hu Jintao.

Though the court was considered almost certain to find Wang guilty of the charges, it may not announce a sentence until days or weeks after the trial.