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Police figure in China murder case could face prosecution

August 10, 2012 | 11:41 am

BEIJING -- The flamboyant police official who blew the whistle on China’s most sensational murder case by fleeing to a U.S. consulate appears headed for prosecution himself.

Four underlings of the police official, Wang Lijun, went on trial Friday on charges of covering up the poisoning in November of British consultant Neil Heywood on behalf of Gu Kailai, the powerful wife of Chongqing’s Communist Party chairman, Bo Xilai.

Wang, 52, a close associate of Bo, is one of the most enigmatic figures in the politically charged murder case that is consuming China. He has alternately appeared in Chinese accounts as a courageous whistle blower or a traitor who betrayed his country and party with wild accusations.

During Gu’s trial on Thursday, the prosecution claimed that Gu had discussed murdering Heywood repeatedly with Wang; and that the two had plotted for Heywood to be killed in what looked like a drug bust, according to a lawyer who attended the closed proceedings.

“Wang knew about it all along. He and Gu discussed whether to frame Heywood as a drug dealer, but they gave up this idea,’’ said the lawyer, citing the prosecution argument. The lawyer spoke on condition of anonymity because he had been instructed by the court not to speak to journalists.

The trials are taking place in Hefei, the capital of Anhui province, and have been closed to all but a few hand-picked spectators. The lawyer said that, according to the prosecution, Wang and Gu met the day before the 41-year-old Heywood came to Chongqing, and the day after he was forced to drink poison-laced water -- but before his body was discovered by hotel staff.

His prosecution could be problematic for the United States; according to some accounts, Wang was denied political asylum and was pressured to surrender himself to authorities from Beijing. Wang fled to a U.S. consulate in Chengdu in February, claiming to have discovered evidence that Heywood had not in fact been killed by a heart attack and saying his life was in danger.

Court officials said Gu did not dispute premeditated murder charges at her trial. She is awaiting a formal verdict and sentencing.

The four police officials from Chongqing, all of whom reported to Wang, stood trial Friday in Hefei for allegedly having helped Gu cover up the murder -– a charge which in Chinese law is similar to dereliction of duty.

The results of the trial have not been released, but friends of Wang Pengfei, one of the district police chiefs on trial, have publicly disputed the charges, saying he had played a key role in the investigation, getting a blood sample from Heywood’s body before it was cremated and hiding the sample where it could not be destroyed by Bo’s family.

The Communist Party is anxious to wrap up the case before a congress later this year to anoint a successor to retiring President Hu Jintao and other tops leaders. The charismatic Bo, son of one of Mao Zedong’s closest allies, previously had been thought a contender for a top job.

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-- Barbara Demick

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