A Chinese court has jailed former police chief Wang Lijun for 15 years in a scandal involving one of the country’s most ambitious politicians and the murder of a British businessman.
The court in Chengdu in southwest China said Wang received the sentence for “bending the law for selfish ends, defection, abuse of power and bribe-taking”, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency.
He was found guilty on four charges, including seeking to conceal the murder of businessman Neil Heywood in November 2011.
The court found that Wang, the former police head of Chongqing municipality in southwest China, tried to cover up Heywood’s murder at the hands of Gu Kailai, the wife of Bo Xilai, one of China’s most controversial and ambitious politicians.
Wang was given a comparatively light sentence because he helped turn in a number of police accomplices, who received shorter sentences.
In August, Gu was sentenced to a suspended death sentence, which effectively means life in prison.
The ruling Communist Party must now decide whether Bo will face charges and what his future political career may be. His downfall has thrown a roadblock in front of a leadership handover that was due to take place at a party congress later this year but which leaders might now have to delay to January.
“It has caused a rift in the party which is far from solved yet, which is why the incoming president Xi Jinping disappeared for two weeks most probably,” said Willem Van Kemenade, a Beijing-based China analyst and lecturer at the Clingendael Institute for International Relations in the Netherlands.
“An accommodation between the dominant faction and the Bo Xilai faction has to be realized to assure a harmonious [party] congress where some degree of unity prevails.”
Wang sealed his fate at a trial a week ago by admitting the charges, according to an official account of the hearing published by Xinhua. Only official media outlets were allowed inside the courtroom.
“As for the crimes that the prosecution has alleged, I understand them, I admit to them and I am repentant for them,”
Wang told the court in Chengdu, according to an earlier account.
“Wang Lijun stated to the court that he will not appeal,” said the Xinhua report. Wang’s lawyer, Wang Yuncai, was not available for comment immediately after the announcement.
Both defection and bribery can carry the death penalty in China, but the prosecution and defence said Wang’s co-operation with the authorities meant he was eligible for a lighter sentence, according to a statement made last week.
The main charges stem from a cascade of events triggered by Heywood’s murder.
Officials have said the murder itself arose from a business dispute in Chongqing, the riverside municipality that Bo and Wang oversaw.
After first helping Gu evade suspicion of poisoning Heywood, Wang then kept evidence of the murder, according to the official account of Wang’s trial. In late January, Wang confronted Bo with the allegation that Gu was suspected of killing Heywood.
Wang was “angrily rebuked” for this, news agencies reported.
Days later, Bo stripped Wang of his post as Chongqing police chief, and Wang, fearing for his safety, fled to the US consulate in Chengdu where he hid for more than 24 hours until Chinese officials coaxed him out.
The Chinese government has not said what will happen to Bo, who in March was sacked as party boss and in April suspended from the ruling Communist Party’s Politburo, a powerful decision-making council with two dozen active members.
Bo, as he grew more powerful, had already been targeted by the party leadership for activities such as unauthorised contact with military generals, Van Kemenade said.