China: Politician's wife admitted murdering Brit
BEIJING (AP) — The wife of a disgraced top Chinese politician was a depressed woman on medication but a willful murderer who poisoned a British businessman while in fear for her son's life, official media said Friday in what appeared to be a prelude to her conviction and punishment after a seven-hour trial.
The official Xinhua News Agency — in a 3,400-word report that was its most detailed accounting of the scandal that has shaken the country's leadership — said Gu Kailai and her co-defendant "confessed to intentional murder" in the death of her business associate Neil Heywood last November.
It said evidence showed she used cyanide to poison him in a Chongqing hotel room but also describes her as depressed and fearful that Heywood would harm her family — factors that may bring leniency in her sentence.
Gu's arrest and the ouster of her husband Bo Xilai, the Communist Party boss of Chongqing until March, sparked the biggest political turbulence in China since the putdown of the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. Her tightly orchestrated trial was a step toward resolving the scandal before the party's once-a-decade leadership transition this fall.
The court in Hefei in eastern China's Anhui province that heard her speedy trial on Thursday said a verdict against Gu and the family aide accused as an accomplice would be delivered later. Their trial was followed Friday by the trial of four senior Chongqing police officers accused of helping Gu cover up the crime.
Xinhua said Gu accepted all the facts in the indictment and was ready to accept her punishment, saying: "The tragedy which was created by me was not only extended to Neil, but also to several families."
Gu said Heywood wrote a letter of self-introduction in about 2005 when her son Bo Guagua was studying in Britain. They then got involved in a land project that never got off the ground. According to Xinhua, she said Heywood later got into a dispute with her and her son over payment and other issues and she "believed Heywood had threatened the personal safety of her son and decided to kill Heywood."
It said that according to testimony that prosecutors presented in court, Gu said: "To me, that was more than a threat. It was real action that was taking place. I must fight to my death to stop the craziness of Neil Heywood."
The report did not detail any alleged threats or say why the murder then took place seven years later when Bo Guagua was a graduate student at Harvard. The court was presented with emails between him and Heywood showing how their dispute escalated, Xinhua said, without detailing the contents.
Xinhua said that family aide Zhang Xiaojun had also confessed and said "sorry" to the relatives of Heywood.
A guilty verdict is all but assured against Gu and Zhang and carries the potential punishment of 10 years in prison up to a death sentence.
Heywood's mother, Ann, has said previously said she would not be making any statement about the case.
In a brief interview outside her London house earlier this week, Ann Heywood accused journalists of spreading lies about her late son and said that she was cutting off all contact with the media in order to protect his two young children.
Two letters left at the home have gone unreturned.
The report said Gu, 53, has been treated for chronic insomnia, anxiety and depression and paranoia in the past, and had unsuccessfully used various drugs to overcome those problems, and that she had "developed a certain degree of physical and psychological dependence on sedative hypnotic drugs, which resulted in mental disorders."
But it said Gu "had a clear goal and a practical motive in committing the alleged crime," shown by the preparations prior to Heywood's death, such as arranging the poison and location in an isolated hotel.
That meant, Xinhua said, that although she had "a weakened ability to control herself," Gu knew the consequences of the alleged crime and therefore "she should be identified as having the capacity to accept full criminal responsibility."
Xinhua quoted Gu as saying "the case has produced great losses to the Party and the country, for which I ought to shoulder the responsibility" and that she was grateful to the humanitarian care shown to her by those who handled the case.
"I solemnly tell the court that in order to maintain the dignity of the law, I will accept and calmly face any sentence and I also expect a fair and just court decision," she said.
The report detailed the help Gu had from four police officers in Chongqing. A verdict against them will also be delivered later. It said the four decided to say Heywood died of excessive drinking even though he was not known as a heavy drinker, and covered up Gu's presence at the scene by fabricating interview records and hiding material evidence and other measures.
Xinhua said prosecutors presented testimony from Gu and Zhang that showed Gu had prepared poison containing cyanide and had asked Zhang to accompany Heywood from Beijing to Chongqing where he checked into the Lucky Holiday Hotel.
There Gu drank wine and tea with Heywood until he became drunk and asked for some water. Xinhua said Gu then "put the bottle of cyanide compound she had prepared into Heywood's mouth."
Gu then spread capsulated drugs on the hotel floor to make it seem like Heywood had taken them, Xinhua said, and put a "Do Not Disturb" sign on the door when she left.
The Xinhua report did not mention Gu's husband Bo Xilai even though he is a major political figure in China. Besides being the Communist Party boss of the mega-city of Chongqing where he ran a high-profile crackdown on corruption, Bo was also a member of the party's 25-member Politburo, which is just below the nine-member Standing Committee in power.
The length of the Xinhua report that was released after 11 p.m. Friday was extraordinary compared with important government announcements can run just several hundred words. It also quoted a resident of Hefei praising the case as showing that all people are equal before the law, even though the average person in China is unaware of the case and search words for Gu are blocked on the Internet, and the judiciary is firmly controlled by the Communist Party.
The murder only came to light in February when former Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun suddenly fled to a U.S. consulate and told American diplomats about his suspicions that Heywood had been murdered and that Bo's family was involved.
Wang is being detained for unspecified reasons, and a Hong Kong newspaper, the South China Morning Post, reported Friday that he will go on trial next week in Chengdu for treason.
Bo, 64, the son of a revolutionary veteran, was widely popular among working-class Chinese. But his overt maneuvering to reach the highest echelons of the Communist Party angered some leaders, as did his bombastic campaigns to bust organized crime and promote communist culture while trampling civil liberties and reviving memories of the chaotic Cultural Revolution.
Bo is in the hands of the party's internal discipline and inspection commission, which is expected to issue a statement about his infractions. That would open the way for a court trial with charges possibly including obstructing police work and abuse of power. Thus far, Bo has been accused only of grievous but unspecified rules violations.