BEIJING — Wang Lijun, a flamboyant former police chief whose dramatic flight to a U.S. consulate triggered China’s biggest political scandal in decades, was accused in open court Tuesday of covering up a murder and taking bribes. Prosecutors and a defense lawyer said Wang did not dispute the charges.
Wang, who headed the police department in Chongqing, also has been charged with attempting to defect, because of his overnight stay at the U.S. Consulate in the southwestern city of Chengdu. That portion of the trial, dealing with his flight to the consulate and with alleged illegal wiretapping, was heard in a closed-door session Monday. Sentencing on all the charges was expected at a later date, with many analysts predicting that he would be spared the death penalty.
Wang’s Feb. 6 trip to the U.S. Consulate eventually toppled his boss, Chongqing Communist Party chief Bo Xilai, the son of a Mao-era revolutionary hero who had been widely touted for promotion to a senior job in a leadership reshuffle at a party congress later this year. Bo was ousted from the party’s ruling Politburo and its Central Committee after Wang revealed that Bo’s wife was involved in the poisoning death last year of a British businessman, Neil Heywood.
The scandal not only sidelined Bo — one of China’s most popular and charismatic leaders — but it exposed a web of corruption, power and privilege at the highest levels of politics. Bo’s removal seemed to upset the party’s carefully choreographed transition to the next generation of leaders, with continued factional infighting delaying even the announcement of a date for the upcoming party meeting. Wang’s case also provoked some criticism of the Obama administration, with political opponents charging that the United States should have granted the police chief asylum.
In many ways, Wang has been reduced to a bit player in the ongoing drama — the man who single-handedly sparked the scandal and brought down Bo, but whose own role and fate have become an afterthought.
Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, confessed last month to poisoning Heywood in a business dispute involving her son. Bo has not been heard from in months, as he awaits his fate.
Wang also had not been seen or heard from publicly since he was escorted by Chinese security agents to Beijing from the U.S. Consulate. In footage shown Tuesday on state-run China Central Television, he looked relaxed in a white open-
collared shirt and with his trademark dark-rimmed eyeglasses.
Wang’s wife, daughter and younger brother listened to the court proceedings Tuesday, said Wang Yuncai, a defense lawyer, who is not related to the former police chief.
“After the court this afternoon, the family and I met Wang Lijun for about 20 minutes together,” the lawyer said. “They didn’t talk much about the case and aren’t allowed to,” she added. “The family hadn’t seen him for a long time.”
The proceeding, at Chengdu Intermediate Court, was closed to foreign reporters. But in a statement read aloud at a hotel afterward, court spokesman Yang Yuquan said: “The accused Wang Lijun voluntarily gave himself up after committing the crime of defection, and then gave a truthful account of the main crimes involved in his defection.”
Another lawyer involved in the defense, Wang Zongqi, president of the Sichuan Great Master Law Firm, said by telephone that Wang “admitted the charges against him in court. He received those bribes when he was in Chongqing.” Wang Zongqi also is not related to Wang Lijun.
When Bo’s wife, Gu, was put on trial in Anhui province in August, prosecutors detailed how she became irrational and upset when Heywood fell out with her son, Bo Guagua, over a multimillion-dollar development scheme that went bust.
After Heywood supposedly sent an e-mail to Bo Guagua, threatening to “destroy” the young man, Gu met with Wang Lijun and a businessman, Xu Ming, to discuss various ways to deal with Heywood, according to prosecutors. The prosecutors said Wang Lijun told the group, “It’s not easy to arrest him in Beijing. You should attract him to Chongqing, and I can ambush him.” The group then discussed plans to have Heywood killed in a shootout and plant drugs on him.
But Gu decided to act on her own, poisoning Heywood after a night of drinking whiskey, prosecutors said in her trial. They said Gu then met Wang on Nov. 14, the day after the murder, and confessed to him. But Wang already knew — he was bugging the hotel room.
Wang then had blood samples taken from Heywood’s heart, prosecutors said, before the Briton’s body was hastily cremated.
“Wang knew perfectly well that Bogu Kailai was under serious suspicion of intentional homicide, but he deliberately covered up for her so that Bogu Kailai would not be held legally responsible,” the official Xinhua news agency reported, citing prosecutors. The government and its media use the name Bogu Kailai for Gu.
The detailed Xinhua report said that Wang Lijun later voluntarily surrendered after his “defection” to the U.S. Consulate, reported Gu’s role in the murder to authorities and assisted in the reinvestigation of the Heywood murder — all factors that should merit a lighter sentence, the agency said.
During his tenure as Chongqing’s police chief — a crime-busting period that made him one of China’s most celebrated law enforcers and the subject of a television documentary — Wang oversaw the arrest of thousands of suspected gangsters, corrupt businessmen and crooked cops during a campaign known as “Strike Hard.”
Now, the relatives of many of those targeted in the campaign are appealing to have their cases overturned.
“Wang Lijun deserved this trial. He committed so many crimes . . . under the excuse of ‘Strike Hard,’ ” said a woman from Chongqing, speaking by telephone.
Zhang Jie contributed to this report.