China's most politically explosive trial in recent memory ended in a matter of hours Thursday when Gu Kailai, the wife of disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai, did not object to murder charges against her.
Court officials in the eastern city of Hefei gave no indication of when a verdict would be announced, but said Gu Kailai did not deny she was responsible for the murder of British business associate Neil Heywood.
Hefei Intermediate Court spokesperson Tang Yigan accused Gu of poisoning Heywood, with the help of her family’s butler, Zhang Xiaojun, who also is on trial.
Tang said Gu visited Neil Heywood in his hotel room on the evening of November 13, 2011. He said that after Heywood got drunk and vomited, she poisoned him using a substance Zhang Xiaojun had brought.
The court spokesman said Gu’s defense lawyer argued Heywood was partially responsible. He said Gu was under the impression the British businessman was threatening to harm her son over some undefined “economic dispute.”
No evidence has been made public, but the state-run Xinhua news agency described the evidence in the case as “irrefutable and substantial."
Questions of fairness, timing
Even before Gu's speedy, hours-long trial there were concerns about whether she would receive a fair defense, and few doubted she would be found guilty.
The scandal comes at a sensitive time for China's Communist Party, which is set to undergo a rare leadership transition later this year. Many Chinese suspect Beijing officials are using the case as a way to wreck the charismatic Bo Xilai's political career.
Analyst David Kelly, who heads the Beijing-based think tank China Policy, agrees. He said the trial is as much about Bo as about his wife.
“It is seen that forces that are kind of beyond the individual are at play and she is, in a sense, a pawn in the game," said Kelly.
Bo's fate hangs in balance
Some say Gu's conviction is a precursor to a possible criminal prosecution of Bo, who is being investigated by the Communist Party for corruption and obstruction of justice for not reporting what he knew about his wife’s crime. Bo is currently detained and has not been heard from in months.
It is unclear how long it will take the court to announce a verdict, but both Gu Kailai and Zhang Xiaojun risk the death penalty for intentional homicide.