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China Charges Bo Xilai's Wife With Murder

China's former Chongqing Municipality Communist Party Secretary Bo Xilai (R) and his wife Gu Kailai.

China's former Chongqing Municipality Communist Party Secretary Bo Xilai (R) and his wife Gu Kailai.

Chinese prosecutors have charged the wife of disgraced former official Bo Xilai and a family employee with the murder of a British businessman, in connection with a political scandal that has embarrassed the Chinese leadership.

The official Xinhua news agency reports Bo's wife Gu Kailai, and the employee Zhang Xiaojun, recently were charged with "intentional homicide" in the death of Neil Heywood, who had business dealings with the couple.

Neil Heywood (file photo)

Neil Heywood (file photo)

Xinhua said Gu and Zhang are suspected of poisoning Heywood, who was found dead in a hotel last November. Chinese authorities initially attributed his death to a heart attack or excessive drinking.

The report said Gu and her son had a disagreement with Heywood over "economic interests." Prosecutors also said Gu was worried about what they called "Heywood's threat to her son's personal security."

It is the first time China has confirmed a motive for the alleged murder and provided details about how the couple's son, Bo Guagua, is connected to the case. The younger Bo recently graduated from a program at Harvard University in the United States, but his whereabouts were not immediately known.
Bo Xilai's wife, Gu Kailai, is at the center of one of the most sensational scandals to rock China's Communist Party.

  • Did not dispute charges she murdered British businessman Neil Heywood
  • Charged with the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood
  • Worked as a successful lawyer before retiring as her husband's career took off
  • Wrote a book about her experience helping Chinese companies win a U.S. legal battle
  • Daughter of a prominent Communist leader

Xinhua also confirmed that Gu and Zhang will face trial in the eastern Chinese city of Hefei, far from Beijing and Chongqing, where Heywood died. It said the date of the trial is yet to be decided. The report also said the evidence against the two defendants is "irrefutable and substantial," indicating Beijing expects a guilty verdict.

A New York lawyer who has studied China’s legal system said Gu and Zhang would face the death penalty if convicted, but could be spared execution if they receive a probationary sentence.

Jim Li of Jim Li & Associates said the defendants have the right to choose their own lawyers and appeal any conviction. But, he said Chinese authorities typically harass defense lawyers in sensitive cases and manipulate the appeal process.

Timeline of the Bo Xilai Scandal

  • Feb. 2: Bo's key ally and Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun is demoted
  • Feb. 6: Wang visits U.S. consulate in Chengdu, reportedly to seek asylum
  • Mar. 2: Xinhua says Wang is under investigation
  • Mar. 9: Bo defends himself and his wife, Gu Kailai, at a press conference at the National People's Congress
  • Mar.15: Bo dismissed as Chongqing party chief
  • Mar. 26: Britain asks China to investigate November death of Briton Neil Heywood in Chongqing
  • Apr. 10: Bo suspended from Communist Party posts. China says his wife is being investigated for Heywood's death
  • Apr. 17: New York Times reports U.S. officials held Wang so he could be handed to Beijing authorities instead of local police.
  • Jul. 26: Bo's wife, Gu kailai, charged with the murder of Briton Neil Heywood
  • August 9: Gu Kailai's trial begins in Hefei.

A British Foreign Office spokesman said London is "glad to see that the Chinese authorities are continuing with the investigation" of the case. It said Britain is "dedicated to seeking justice" for Heywood and his family and will be "following developments closely."

The scandal erupted in February when a longtime Bo family aide fled to a U.S. consulate and made accusations of Gu's involvement in Heywood's death. The following month, authorities removed Bo Xilai from his post as Communist Party chief of the city of Chongqing due to unspecified transgressions.

Bo had been a rising star in the ruling party and a likely candidate for promotion in China's once-in-a-decade leadership transition, due to take place at a party congress later this year. Some observers have said Chinese leaders want to resolve the Heywood murder case before the congress to prevent it from being a distraction.

Catherine Maddux contributed to this report.

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