Gu Kailai verdict protects the Communist party
So a Chinese court in an out-of-the-way city called Hefei has sentenced Gu Kailai, the wife of a disgraced Communist party boss, to a prison term of “life”. No dramatic tension there, I am afraid.
Her fate was sealed back in April when Xinhua, a state news organ, announced that Ms Gu was “highly suspected… of intentional homicide”.
She has been convicted of killing a British businessman called Neil Heywood – a member of Ms Gu’s, and her husband Bo Xilai’s, inner circle. It’s thought he worked for them as a personal assistant and “financial fixer”.
The trial, held last Thursday, took a speedy seven hours, with Gu Kailai deciding not to contest the charges.
She apologized for the “great losses to the party and the country, for which I ought to shoulder the responsibility” and went on to describe the case as a “huge stone weighing on me for more than half a year”.
Other details have emerged in the state press. Gu Kailai was apparently a “mentally unstable women” who committed murder after Heywood had threatened her son – Heywood’s demand for the return of $22m after the collapse of a real estate fuelling their dispute, we are told.
Dramatic details of how she mixed a cyanide-based animal poison procured from a public market have also been published by Xinhau.
She dripped the deadly potion into his mouth after getting him drunk on “whiskey and tea” in a villa round the back of an exclusive hotel.
It seems to be an open and shut case, then. A woman sins, admits her guilt and repents in court – by apologising to the party. She avoids the noose and is rewarded with a lenient sentence.
According to human rights group Dui Hua, she may spend just nine years in jail before being released on “mental parole” – an extraordinary outcome when you consider that China puts more people to death than the rest of the world put together.
But hang on a minute – what about that multi-million dollar property deal that propelled this story towards its unhappy end? Surely there is more to this than just a simple case of murder?
Ms Gu, who had previously worked as a lawyer, described herself as a “housewife” whose primary role consisted of supporting her husband, Bo Xilai.
Mr Bo was party boss of the south western municipality of Chongqing – a responsibility for which he received about $1600 a month.
The real significance of this case lies in that property deal – one example of how senior members of the Communist Party use their positions at the top in order to enrich themselves.
Mr Heywood’s role in all this was crucial. He helped people like Bo Xilai and Gu Kailai get their money out of the country – necessary, because China imposes strict controls on capital movement.
According to US news outlet Bloomberg, Bo Xilai’s elder brother controlled $10m of shares at the Hong Kong-listed subsidiary of a state-owned bank. Two sisters of Gu Kailai control business interests estimated at $126m.
You won’t read about any of that in Xinhua of course (and yes, they do have an English edition). Officially at least, the legal process has run its course and the decision has been made according to “the rule of law”.
But here’s the unofficial view: this was a carefully constructed judgment designed to satisfy the Chinese public and British diplomats in Beijing.
But most of all, this judgment is about protecting the Communist party and those established interests within it when they are supposed to be picking a new bunch of leaders in the autumn, in a once-in-a-decade transition.
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