China: Gu Kailai murder verdict date set

2012-08-17 08:20

Beijing - A Chinese court will on Monday issue its verdict in the murder trial of Gu Kailai, the wife of disgraced former Communist party leader Bo Xilai, a local government official said on Friday.

"On Monday the court will reconvene and announce the verdict and sentence," said Zhang Mingwu, deputy director of the information office of Anhui province, where the trial was held.

Experts say a guilty verdict is in little doubt after Chinese state media reported that Gu confessed during the hearing last week to murdering a British businessman, blaming her actions on a mental breakdown.

Murder carries the death penalty in China, but experts have said Gu is likely to be spared execution and will instead serve a long prison sentence.

She is charged with poisoning Neil Heywood, a 41-year-old British man with whom she and her husband had business dealings, after a row over money.

China's official Xinhua news agency said last week that she acted after Heywood threatened the couple's son, Bo Guagua.

Deep rifts

Heywood's murder sparked China's biggest political scandal in years and brought down Gu's husband Bo, who had been tipped to become one of the ruling Communist party's top leaders in a ten-yearly power handover later this year.

Political analysts say the fall-out from the scandal has revealed deep rifts at the heart of the Communist party, and that leaders are eager to draw a line under the controversy.

Some observers expect Gu to bear harsher consequences while Bo, who has been placed under investigation for "serious discipline violations", will be dealt with more lightly or after the power transition.

"They are really focusing on getting Gu Kailai to pay," said Steve Tsang, director of the China Policy Institute at the University of Nottingham.

"My bet is that Bo will get off relatively lightly and they are going to park Bo Xilai's case until after the succession, the party Congress."

But a mitigating factor for Gu may be that she sought to protect her son. Her lawyer also asked the court to consider her "significant contributions by reporting offences by other people", court official Tang Yigan said last week.

Cover up

Gu's trial has drawn comparisons with that of Chinese leader Mao Zedong's widow Jiang Qing, who along with the three others in the "Gang of Four" was convicted for fomenting the tumultuous Cultural Revolution.

Jiang received a death sentence in 1981 but this was later commuted to life in prison, as often happens with high-profile defendants in China.

Four police officers tasked with investigating Heywood's death admitted to covering up the murder at a separate trial at the same Hefei city court on Friday, Tang said.

All four worked in the southwestern megacity of Chongqing, where Heywood died last November and where Bo served as party secretary.

The scandal erupted in February when Bo's right-hand man police chief Wang Lijun fled to a nearby US consulate and reportedly shared details about the murder.