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ASIA > Death sentence for Bo’s wife shakes China

HEFEI, China

A Chinese court hands the wife of a disgraced politician a suspended death verdict for murdering a British businessman in a case that has rocked the ruling Communist Party

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Chinese politician Bo Xilai (R) and his wife Gu Kailai attend a memorial ceremony for Bo’s father Bo Yibo, a late revolutionary leader considered one of communist China’s founding fathers, in Beijing in this 2007 photo. AP photo

Chinese politician Bo Xilai (R) and his wife Gu Kailai attend a memorial ceremony for Bo’s father Bo Yibo, a late revolutionary leader considered one of communist China’s founding fathers, in Beijing in this 2007 photo. AP photo

The wife of a disgraced Chinese politician was given a suspended death sentence yesterday after confessing to killing a British businessman by poisoning him with cyanide in a case that has rocked the country’s top political leadership.

A suspended sentence is usually commuted to life in prison after two years. Sentenced along with Gu Kailai was a family aide who was given nine years’ imprisonment for his involvement in the murder of Neil Heywood, a former family associate. Four policemen accused of covering up the crime were given sentences from five to 11 years, according to the Associated Press.

Gu’s arrest and the ouster of her husband sparked the biggest political turbulence in China since the crackdown on the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests in 1989. However, it also leaves open questions over the fate of Gu’s husband, Bo Xilai, who was dismissed in March as the powerful Communist Party leader of the major city of Chongqing for unspecified violations.

Son and daughter of powerful figures

Bo’s dismissal and his wife’s murder trial come at a sensitive time in China, with party leaders handing over power soon to a younger generation. A former Commerce Minister and the son of one of China’s founding fathers, Bo was already in the party’s 25-member Politburo and before the scandal was seen as a contender for the nine-member Standing Committee that runs China. Gu is also the youngest daughter of People’s Liberation Army General Gu Jingsheng.

Lawyers and political analysts said politics appeared to weigh heavily on the verdict. State media said Gu, 53, confessed to intentional homicide at a one-day trial held Aug. 9. She said she and Heywood had a dispute over money and that the British businessman had allegedly threatened her son. “Last November, I suffered a mental breakdown after learning my son was in jeopardy,” Gu said shortly before the trial concluded.

The court rejected claims that Heywood’s threats had prompted the crime, saying there was no evidence he intended to make good on them. Gu told the court that the verdict was just. An amendment to China’s criminal law in 2011 said that criminals with life sentences who show proper conduct can have their life sentences cut to 25 years in jail.

The sentence of death with a two-year suspension means that if Gu commits no crimes while in prison, her sentence will be commuted after two years to life imprisonment and could be further reduced for good behavior, BBC quoted Chinese legal expert Professor Donald Clarke as writing in his blog. The British Embassy issued a statement saying it welcomed the fact China had tried those it had identified as responsible.

August/21/2012

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