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China sentences former police chief for hiding murder by Bo Xilai’s wife

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BEIJING — Wang Lijun, a flashy former police chief who helped derail the career of one of China’s most prominent Communist Party figures, was sentenced Monday to 15 years in prison on charges including covering up a murder and then attempting to defect to the United States.

The defection charge alone could have brought Wang a death penalty. But prosecutors asked for a more lenient sentence, saying Wang cooperated with investigators in exposing how Gu Kailai, the wife of Chongqing Party boss Bo Xilai, poisoned British businessman Neil Heywood in November.

The swift trial and sentence suggested China’s Communist rulers are eager to move beyond the high-level scandal in time to hold a Party Congress to usher in China’s most wide-ranging leadership change in a decade.

Until the scandal erupted in February, Bo was seen as a leading candidate for a position on the nine-member Politburo Standing Committee, which effectively runs the country. Bo was fired as Chongqing Party boss in March and stripped of his party positions a month later while awaiting his fate.

According to the government, Gu admitted immediately to Wang that she poisoned Heywood but Wang helped her conceal it, having the death listed as the result of excessive drinking and having the body cremated.

But Wang also secretly recorded Gu’s confession and kept blood samples from Heywood’s heart. That evidence helped convict Gu of murder in August, and she received a death sentence, which was suspended.

After the murder, the government said, Gu became increasingly worried about being exposed, and Wang worried, too, that he was being targeted in a corruption probe. Prosecutors said Wang in January took his evidence to “the then-leading official of the Communist Party of China Chongqing Committee,” who at the time was Gu’s husband, Bo Xilai. According to the government, Bo reacted angrily and slapped Wang in the face.

It was shortly after that, on Feb. 6, that Wang drove from Chongqing to Chengdu and took refuge in the U.S. Consulate for more than 24 hours before being taken by Chinese intelligence officials to Beijing.

With Gu and an accomplice convicted of murder and sentenced, and Wang’s trial and sentencing now complete, all that remains is for the government to rule on the fate of Bo.

He has not been charged with a crime, leading to speculation that he may receive a lighter punishment, perhaps an internal party disciplinary action for not properly supervising subordinates.

A lawyer for Wang said later that he was calm when the sentence was read. She said the sentence was fair, and within the law for the crimes, and that Wang had no plans to appeal.

Zhang Jie contributed to this report.

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