A scandal that ruined the career of prominent Chinese Communist Party leader Bo Xilai, and led to murder charges against his wife, has widened to include four of his former security chiefs being charged with covering up the crime.
There was no verdict announced after the trial of Gu and the butler, Zhang Xiaojun, at the Hefei court. Heywood was a business partner of Gu's, and prosecutors said she killed him after a financial dispute. A court official later said Gu did not deny the allegations against her, but she has never publicly given her side of the story.
The disclosure of charges against Bo Xilai's former security chiefs is the first time the Chinese government has publicly implicated them in the scandal. The central government removed Bo from his Chongqing post in March for unspecified offenses after his wife was accused of murder. But he has not been publicly charged in the case.
Security Chiefs Linked to Bo
The four men due on trial Friday include the former deputy chief of Chongqing's Public Security Bureau, Guo Weiguo, the former chief of the bureau's criminal section, Li Yang, and former security officials Wang Pengfei and Wang Zhi. The defendants had served under former public security bureau chief Wang Lijun, who first revealed the murder allegations against Gu to U.S. diplomats in February.
Wang and his deputies had worked under Bo's authority for years, dating back to Bo's tenure as governor of the northeastern province of Liaoning in the early 2000s. They followed Bo to Chongqing after he became municipal party chief in 2007.
Bo and Wang carried out a so-called “smash black” campaign against corruption and crime in Chongqing, a crackdown critics say included unlawful practices like framing suspects, forcing confessions and extorting potential targets.
Containing the Case
Jacques deLisle, a China legal expert with the University of Pennsylvania Law School, says the Chinese Communist Party is likely looking for a way to hold Bo accountable for some misbehavior without examining all of his practices.
“The easiest charge to bring against him politically is covering up Gu’s crime because that’s a one-off. If you get into things like he used the police to systematically go after enemies and highly corrupt activities, then you [raise the point that] that goes on with a lot of Chinese officials,” he said.
Chinese officials are not commenting on the trial, and state media has done little reporting, leaving much open to speculation.
Feinerman says there is also a chance the police officials could say they acted on their own will. Whichever direction the trial takes, he says Chinese officials are looking to clean up the police administration in Chongqing, which was called into question after its chief, Wang, fled to a U.S. consulate.
“They had to go back through it and try and see up and down who was allied with Wang Lijun and who was taking orders from Bo Xilai, and make sure they had people who were going to be more loyal to the center,” he said.
Getting the police and Bo’s allies in line is crucial to ensuring a smooth leadership transition during November’s Communist Party Congress, according to Feinerman.
“The problem that they [Chinese leaders] face is there are still people who were allied with Bo Xilai or leftists who took heart in what seemed to be his coming rise who need to be tamped down to make sure there will be a smooth transition without a lot of factionalism,” he said.
Security Tight in Hefei
During the one-day trial of Gu Kailai and her co-defendant, uniformed and plainclothes police were deployed in neighborhoods and even shopping malls around the courthouse.
Reporter Shannon Van Sant said a group of about 20 people showed up at the courthouse in Thursday morning and spoke with reporters about their support for Bo Xilai, whom they saw as an alternative to what they referred to as China's current corrupt leadership.
“Initially there were some undercover police and thugs tried to block cameras with their umbrellas,” Van Sant said. “Eventually some other police came over as the people started speaking more forcefully and more passionately of their support for Bo Xilai.” Van Sant said the police beat several protesters, and eventually forced at least two men inside one of their cars.
Bo Xilai was previously widely expected to be in line for a seat at the Standing Committee of the party’s Politburo. During his tenure in Chongqing, he led a controversial revival of Communist themes and tried to clean up the city by planting trees and cracking down on organized crime. He was considered a popular politician among residents.
Former police chief Wang Lijun speaks during a court hearing in Chengdu, China, in this still image taken from CCTV video, September 18, 2012.
Security guards stand behind the glass doors of a closed shop next to the Chengdu Intermediate People's Court, where Wang Lijun was tried, Chengdu, China, September 17, 2012.
This video image taken from CCTV shows Gu Kailai, second left, the wife of disgraced politician Bo Xilai, being taken into the Intermediate People's Court in the eastern Chinese city Hefei, August 9, 2012.
Police officers stand guard at the Hefei City Intermediate People's Court for the murder trial of Gu Kailai, Anhui Province, China, August 9, 2012.
This image taken from CCTV shows Gu Kailai (front, C) at her trial at Hefei Intermediate People's Court, August 9, 2012.
Composite photo of Neil Heywood and Gu Kailai
Zhang Xiaojun, Gu Kailai's aide, attends a trial in the court room at Hefei Intermediate People's Court in this still image taken from CCTV video, August 9, 2012.
Then Chongqing party secretary Bo Xilai attends a plenary session of the National People's Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, March 11, 2012.
Bo Xilai, walks past from left, Zhou Yong Kang, China's Communist Party head of Political and Legislative affairs committee, Vice Premier Li Keqiang and propaganda chief Li Changchun at the National People's Congress in Beijing, March 9, 2012.
Gu Kailai attends a memorial ceremony for Bo Xilai's father at a military hospital in Beijing, January 17, 2007.
Bo Xilai, right and his son, Bo Guagua, 2007.