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    Greater China
     Aug 23, 2012

Why Gu Kailai stood by her man
By Wu Zhong, China Editor

HONG KONG - As expected, a Chinese court on Monday gave Gu Kailai, the wife of disgraced forner Chongqing Communist Party chief Bo Xilai, a suspended death sentence for murdering British businessman Neil Heywood late last year.

The verdict in Hefei, the provincial capital of Anhui province, had some critics saying it was too lenient and others saying it was too heavy. In China, a suspended death sentence can be reduced to a life sentence - meaning lifelong incarceration - with a possible reduction to 20 years in jail if the convict behaves well.

A more intriguing issue revoles around Bo. Witnesses at the court said that throughout the whole trial, his name wasn't mentioned once.

This has prompted analysts to accuse the Chinese Communist


Party (CCP) of trying to protect its reputation by keeping Bo out of the case. This is probably true. After all, the party's image would be severely damaged if one of its Politburo members was found to be involved in a brutal murder.

However, from another perspective it seems Gu was the one protecting Bo. At the court, she willingly confessed to the poisoning of Heywood and accepted the verdict as "just". As Gu, the chief culprit, accepted all the blame, Bo could hardly be implicated. If she is as cunning as she is reputed to be, there is a chance that Gu calculated that Bo could yet make a political comeback and save her.

Bo is still immune to court proceedings as he remains a party member and deputy of the National People's Congress (NPC) - China's parliament. Before he could stand trial, these privileges must be removed.

Bo is still under investigation by the party's Central Commission of Disciplinary Inspection for alleged violations of party discipline, an accusation that covers all kinds of wrongdoings, including criminal offences. Given his seniority, only the CCP's Central Committee can decide on a deprival of his party membership. The current Central Committee is due to hold its plenary session in late September or October - before the CCP convenes its 18th National Congress. It is widely expected Bo's fate will be decided at this plenary session.

The Standing Committee of the NPC will hold a meeting next week. This will likely give indications of whether Bo's NPC membership will be revoked.

Once Bo's legal immunity is removed, he may still have to face trial in relation to the Heywood murder case, apart from other facing other possible charges such as corruption, abuse of power and dereliction of duty.

Four former senior Chongqing police officers, including a former deputy chief of Chongqing police, were given jail terms early this week for helping Gu cover up the murder. It is unlikely they acted on their own, and must have been given orders by their superiors.

It has been reported that the then Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun, who used to be a close aide of Bo before and during the latter's period as the muncipality's party secretary, reported the murder of Heywood immediately to Bo and was told to keep his hands off. Shortly afterwards, in February this year, Wang "walked" into the US Consulate General in Chengdu, provincial capital of Sichuan neighboring Chongqing. If this is true, the testimony of Wang, who is reportedly to stand trial soon, will inevitablly implicate Bo.

Even the confession of Gu, who might have tried to protect her husband, is not totally in favor of Bo. Her motivation to kill Heywood, she said, was because the British businessman threatened to harm her son Bo Guagua, then a student at Harvard University in the United States, if she failed to give him US$20 million. A business dispute was given as the reason.

But this doesn't answer all the questions raised. What kind of business dispute between Heywood and Bo junior would prompt the British businessman to make such threats? Bo told the media in March that his family was not involved in any commercial business. So why were there business disputes? Surely, such arguments could be settled with money? Given the power of Bo Xilai, it would not have been difficult for his family to make any arrangement (such as having some business people pay Heywood).

Why would Heywood resort to threatening the son of a very powerful politician in China, especially as the British businessman was still living in the country?

A rather more plausible explanation, as some commentators have pointed out, is that Heywood might have held evidence that could jeopardize the political future of Bo senior when he was widely seen as a rising political star. If Heywood indeed attempted such blackmail, his target was likely Bo, and this would make the Englishman an obstacle to Bo Xilai's political career. He would need to be silenced ahead of the all-important 18th party congress, at which senior Bo originally was hopeful to move up a rung of the power ladder to the inner ruling circle of the Politburo Standing Committee.

In any case, Beijing will find other faults to nail Bo with, even if it cannot find hard evidence to implicate him in the Heywood case. Corruption would be a convenient charge as his family, as reported, could hardly be said to be clean. If Heywood indeed asked for $20 million, he should have well known how wealthy the Bo family was. But where does their wealth come from?

Dereliction of duties could be another, given that a murder case under his jurisdiction was covered up.

All in all, Bo's political career is finished. He is not elected as a deputy to the CCP's 18th congress. That means there is no chance for him to be "elected" into the party's new Central Committee, let alone the Politburo and its Standing Committee.

All signs suggest that Bo will face criminal charges after the 18th party congress, whatever these charges are. The new leadership certainly would not want to see such an ambitious and ruthless guy walking around, threatening their rule.

(Copyright 2012 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

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