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China hints at lenient sentence for former cop

Wednesday, September 19, 2012    

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CHENGDU, China (AP) — China signalled yesterday it will be lenient with a former police chief enmeshed in a political scandal roiling the country's leadership, saying he cooperated with investigators who brought down a top Chinese politician's wife for the murder of a British businessman.

Yesterday's conclusion of Wang Lijun's trial brings Chinese leaders a step closer to resolving a scandal that exposed seamy infighting and buffeted a delicate transfer of power to new leaders expected to take place in coming weeks. Wang sparked the turbulent affair with a dramatic flight to the US Consulate in Chengdu in February where he divulged information about the murder, resulting in the removal of his boss, Bo Xilai, once a political high-flier vying for a top job.

Wang faced charges of defection, bending the law for personal gain, bribery and abuse of power, most stemming from his consulate escapade and initial cover-up of the murder. In summarising the two-day trial, a spokesman for the Intermediate People's Court in Chengdu city said prosecutors noted that Wang's surrender to authorities and ultimate cooperation may merit lighter punishment.

The crimes he faces are generally punishable by up to 10 years in prison with a 20-year maximum for consecutive sentences, though sentencing guidelines allow for life imprisonment or the death penalty in egregious cases.

In laying the ground for a lenient sentence for Wang, Chinese leaders, who control the justice system, appear to have reached agreement over the thorniest issue — how to deal with Bo, said Willy Lam of Chinese University of Hong Kong. Leaders must decide whether to expel Bo from the party and prosecute him, and differences are believed to have delayed the announcement of dates for a Communist Party congress to install the new leadership.

"It appears that a deal has already been struck that Bo Xilai will be spared heavy punishment. That's why people associated with Bo... are also getting considerably light treatment," Lam said.

The son of a deceased prominent revolutionary veteran, Bo retains influence among party elders, senior officials and military commanders. In a sign leaders want to contain the damage, neither the official court summary nor state media reports of the trial mentioned Bo.

The scandal would have stayed under wraps but for Wang's disclosure to US diplomats. Following British demands for a full investigation, Chinese leaders were forced to make public the scandalous details that reaffirmed for many Chinese a government consumed by corruption and power.

Official accounts of Wang's trial — two half-day sessions that were closed to all but selected state media — provided a few new details about the scandal in Chongqing — the inland mega-city Bo headed as party boss with Wang as his police chief.

At the trial Wang "did not raise objections" to the charges and was in "good health and stable mood," court spokesman Yang Yuquan told reporters afterward. Footage of the trial aired by state television showed Wang appearing sombre but still looking young for his 52 years.

In his summary, Yang said Wang "knew perfectly well" that Bo's wife, Gu Kailai, was suspected of murdering Briton Neil Heywood, but initially covered it up. Prosecutors argued that as a senior official in possession of state secrets, Wang's attempt at defection amounted to a serious crime, but he then surrendered, according to the summary.

Yang said after Wang turned himself in, he provided information to investigators that led to Gu's murder conviction and aided in the investigation of others Yang did not name.

At her trial last month, Gu confessed to murdering Heywood, a longtime business associate, following a dispute over money and perceived threats to her son; she received a suspended death sentence.

Huge holes remain in the official narrative. Still unexplained is what prompted Wang to seek refuge in the US Consulate and what state secrets were involved. No details were given for why Wang allegedly accepted bribes of amounting to 3,050,000 yuan (US$500,000) and used "technical reconnaissance measures against" — or spied on — many people on multiple occasions without official approval. And to what extent was his longtime boss Bo involved?

In the summary, Wang's lawyer argued that "Wang had a reason for defecting" but voluntarily left the consulate and "made an important contribution to the solving of the case," Yang said.

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