By Tom Hancock | AFP
CHENGDU, China, 24 September 2012
Chinese ex-police chief Wang Lijun, who exposed a scandal that shocked the ruling Communist Party, was sentenced to 15 years in prison on Monday for defection and other crimes.
Wang, the right-hand man of top politician Bo Xilai, fled to the US consulate in Chengdu in February, sparking a crisis that saw Bo sacked and his wife found guilty of murder ahead of a generational transfer of power.
His conviction and sentence are the latest move by the authorities to try to deal with the fall-out from the scandal ahead of the once-in-a-decade leadership transition at a Communist Party congress expected next month.
The former police chief of the sprawling metropolis of Chongqing, where Bo was the top Party official, Wang was tried for defection, bribery, abuse of power and bending the law for selfish ends, admitting all the charges.
Analysts told AFP that it remained unclear whether the authorities would put Bo — once a contender to join the elite Politburo Standing Committee and one of the country’s best-known politicians — on criminal trial.
Bo is being investigated by the Party for “serious” violations of discipline and has not been seen for months.
In a statement, the Intermediate People’s Court in the southwestern city of Chengdu found Wang guilty on each count, adding that the circumstances of the bending-the-law offence were “very serious”.
But it said that he was shown leniency because he had reported the role of Bo’s wife Gu Kailai in the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood.
He “actively helped with the re-investigation”, which “played an important role in the breaking of the case by police authorities”, it said.
The court sentenced Wang to nine years for bribery, seven for bending the law, and two each for abuse of power and defection, but reduced the combined term to a total of 15 years, in accordance with Chinese law.
Wang said he would not appeal, the court added.
It was the final step in the downfall of a man once China’s best-known crime fighter, with thousands of people arrested after Bo brought him in to lead an his anti-mafia campaign in Chongqing — which was also criticised for human rights abuses.
An ethnic Mongolian and martial arts expert, Wang’s steely, unsmiling gaze and thin glasses gave him the face of an incorruptible “supercop”, and his body carried 20 scars from bullet and other wounds.
Wang, 52, had a taste for drama, on occasion firing a single shot into the air when confronting criminals, or staging high-profile arrests in front of the cameras.
But relations between him and his patron turned sour early this year, months after Heywood, a close associate of Bo’s family, was found dead in a Chongqing hotel room.
State media said that Wang initially agreed to help cover up the murder, but later confronted his boss about Gu’s role in the poisoning, and was slapped in the face.
Days afterwards he fled to the consulate, where he sought asylum from US authorities, according to an extensive trial report by the official Xinhua news agency.
But after 33 hours inside the building he left of his own accord and was taken to Beijing by security officials.
He was not seen again in public until his trial last week, when Xinhua quoted him as saying: “I acknowledge and confess the guilt accused by the prosecuting body and show my repentance.”
Gu was last month handed a suspended death sentence — usually commuted to life in prison — for Heywood’s killing.
The Xinhua account of Wang’s trial did not identify Bo by name but suggested he knew his wife was suspected of Heywood’s murder but did nothing, leaving him open to possible prosecution and imprisonment for sheltering a criminal.
Under Chinese law that offence carries a maximum punishment of 10 years in prison. Monday’s statement also did not name Bo.
The fact that Bo was not directly named in official accounts of the Wang trial gave Communist leaders leeway in how to deal with him, said Bo Zhiyue, a research fellow on Chinese politics at the National University of Singapore, who is not related.
Any trial was unlikely to happen before the party Congress, given the tight timing and political sensitivities, he said.
“They are going to have to be very careful about how to handle his case,” given his support among parts of the public and political elite, he said.
But Willy Lam, a China watcher at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, argued that Wang’s sentence was relatively mild and could bode well for his former boss. “This is all meant to spare Bo Xilai,” he said.