, BEIJING, Aug 17 – 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 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.
The killing 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.
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 – a factor that could possibly mitigate her sentence.
Gu’s lawyer also asked the court to take into account that she cooperated with authorities by “reporting offences by other people,” court official Tang Yigan said last week.
Political analysts say the fall-out from the scandal revealed deep rifts at the heart of the Communist party, and that its leaders are eager to draw a line under the controversy ahead of a power succession at the autumn party Congress.
Bo was a charismatic but divisive Communist official known during his tenure as party chief of the southwestern city of Chongqing for a tough anti-corruption drive and a Maoist-style “red revival” that alienated moderates.
He also flouted convention by openly lobbying for a spot in the party’s top decision-making body, the Politburo Standing Committee, which currently has nine members.
He has since been suspended from his post and put under investigation for “serious discipline violations”, and has not appeared in public for months.
Bo’s downfall has been characterised as a victory for outgoing president Hu Jintao and prime minister Wen Jiabao, who favour economic and social reforms.
Some observers believe Bo will receive relatively mild treatment, both to appease his supporters and as a bargaining chip for his opponents in ongoing negotiations about the lineup of the next generation of leaders.
Willy Lam, a China expert at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said that if Bo faces legal charges, they might be for having known about the murder and failing to act rather than for alleged corruption, which can carry harsher punishments.
“It’s possible that Bo might be charged with not exactly complicity but at least offering shelter to his wife and not doing anything about it even though he knew about the murder,” Lam said.
“They might go after him for these relatively lightweight charges but not the much heavier charges of corruption.”
Four Chongqing police officers tasked with investigating Heywood’s death admitted to covering up the murder at a separate trial at the same Hefei city court last Friday, said Tang, the court official.
Hong Kong media reported that Bo’s right-hand man and police chief Wang Lijun went on trial this week in Chengdu city, though court officials there could not be reached for confirmation.
The Heywood scandal erupted in February when Wang fled to a US consulate and reportedly shared details about the murder.