Suspended death sentence for Bo Xilai's wife

Fallen Chinese official's wife Gu Kailai likely to face life in jail for poisoning her British business associate.

    A Chinese court has confirmed handing down a suspended death sentence for Gu Kailai, the wife of fallen politician Bo Xilai, for murdering a British businessman.

    Zhang Xiaojun, a Bo family aide who admitted to helping Gu with Neil Heywood's murder last November, received a nine-year jail sentence, according to court sources.

    A statement to this effect from Tang Yigan, an official with the Hefei Intermediate Court in eastern China, followed earlier comments from witnesses who had attended Monday's closed-door hearing.

    Suspended death sentences are normally commuted to sentences of up to 25 years or life in prison, subject to good behaviour in prison for two years. .

    Tang said at a media briefing that It remains unclear whether Bo himself will be implicated.

    Four police officers who worked under Bo Xilai in Chongqing and who were tried by the Hefei court earlier this month, were found guilty of covering up the killing, Tang said.

    He said the four - named as Guo Weiguo, Li Yang, Wang Pengfei and Wang Zhi - were sentenced to between five and 11 years in jail.

    They had been charged with trying to conceal Gu's involvement in Heywood's death by "forging interview scripts and hiding evidence".

    "We respect today's decision," He Zhengsheng, who represented Heywood's family, said.

    Questions unanswered

    Al Jazeera’s Rob McBride in Hong Kong described the case as one of the “biggest scandals to hit the Communist Party of China in the past two decades".

    Inside Story: Murder, cover-ups and a political conspiracy?

    “Lots of questions are still left unanswered about Bo Xilai’s involvement in all of this,” he said.

    “He hasn’t been seen in public since March and there is a lot of speculation about his involvement in the murder of Heywood and whether he was involved or not in any cover-up.”

    After the verdict was announced, Britain said it welcomed the investigation into Heywood's death.

    "We welcome the fact that the Chinese authorities have investigated the death of Neil Heywood, and tried those they identified as responsible," Britain's embassy in Beijing said in a statement.

    "We consistently made clear to the Chinese authorities that we wanted to see the trials in this case conform to international human rights standards and for the death penalty not to be applied."

    Gu admitted in court earlier this month to poisoning Heywood after a business dispute that she said had led him to threaten her son.

    Career destroyed

    The scandal ended the career of Gu's husband, Bo Xilai, who was once seen as a contender for a place in China's next Communist Party leadership, which will be announced later this year.

    In March Bo was removed as party secretary of the city of Chongqing, with the party citing unspecified violations as the reason.

    Gu's arrest and the removal of her husband prompted the biggest political turbulence in China since the bloody crackdown on the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests in 1989.

    Speaking to Al Jazeera from Hong Kong, Andrew Leung, an independent China specialist, said it was not in anyone’s interest to see the “party’s boat being rocked” by this case.

    “There is a consensus among the top leadership that this case has got to be dealt with quite firmly … before the next leadership [is decided] at the next party conference," Leung said.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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