BEIJING — A court in China has sentenced former police chief Wang Lijun to 15 years in prison. Wang’s flight to a U.S. consulate in southern China, earlier this year, helped expose one of the Communist party’s biggest political scandals in decades.
During his trial, Wang Lijun did not contest any of the charges against him, which included defection, bribery, abuse of power and, as state media put it, bending the law for his own selfish ends.
The willingness to admit his guilt as well as help authorities with the investigation into the murder of a British businessman by the wife of his former boss - rising political star Bo Xilai - appears to have helped lighten his sentence.
In state media footage of the trial Wang was shown apologizing to those he says he let down.
Wang says he regrets the crimes he committed and pledges to spend the rest of his life repaying the party and all those who care about him. Wang says he wants to do this to make up for the pains he brought to them.
Wang Lijun was once Bo Xilai's right hand man. But that changed when he found out that Bo’s wife had murdered British businessman Neil Heywood.
According to an official account of the trial, Wang first helped cover up evidence of the murder, but later confronted his former boss about his wife’s involvement.
When he did, China’s state-run Xinhua news agency says Wang was angrily rebuked and had his ears slapped.
Willy Lam, a China scholar, says one of the most remarkable things about the account of the trial is that it mentions indirectly, but very clearly, the name of Bo Xilai. “It is possible that Bo Xilai, even though he has powerful patrons including former president Jiang Zemin, might have to appear in a court of law to answer criminal charges regarding sheltering his wife and possibly even preventing the course of justice,” stated Lam.
Lam says that, if Bo really does face charges, his punishment is not likely to be too severe, but any criminal action against him will mean the end of his political career.
Bo was last seen in public in March, when he was removed from his post as Chongqing party secretary. The Communist party is investigating him for serious violations of party discipline as it prepares for a once in a decade leadership reshuffle.
Jean-Pierre Cabestan, a political scientist at Hong Kong Baptist University says it is difficult to say what may come next for Bo. “We do not have much hint actually that Bo Xilai is getting to be prosecuted as an ordinary criminal accused of corruption, accused of bending the law for his own interest, of torture or even covering up his wife's murder," said Cabestan. "I think the authorities, the Chinese Communist party leaders, have kept both options open, maybe because they are still divided about how to manage the Bo Xilai case before the party congress.”
Cabestan says that, although the party may want to handle Bo internally, it may be too hard to do that given that many Chinese believe he had to have known about his wife’s involvement in the murder of Neil Heywood.
“I think the logical conclusion would be that eventually Bo Xilai should be prosecuted and should be accused of crimes according to the Chinese criminal law, but how long is going to take, whether such a decision can be made before the congress. And, next question of course is when is the congress is going to open, all those questions remain in the air and undecided for the time being,” Cabestan added.
Lam says he believes some kind of a decision on Bo Xilai will come soon. “They don't have much time left I think so the leadership is very close I think to hammering out the final verdict on Bo Xilai. Again, this illustrates very well the fact that in China there is no independence of the judiciary," Lam said. "So most criminal and other cases are decided by senior officials in the politburo, not by judges and other judiciary officials.”
Most analysts believe that the party will hold its 18th congress some time next month, which will mark the beginning of a once-in-a-decade transition of power.