BEIJING -- Wang Lijun, the Chinese police official who sought refuge at a U.S. consulate early this year, was formally charged Wednesday with defection, abuse of power, bribe-taking and what was described by the state media as “bending the law for selfish ends."
The charges were filed with the Intermediate Peoples’ Court in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province where Wang had taken refuge in the consulate in February, the New China News Agency reported. Typically, such an announcement precedes a trial by a few weeks.
Wang’s flight to the consulate unveiled the underside of Chinese officialdom, as he spilled an almost unbelievable tale of murder and deception -- accusing the wife of Politburo member Bo Xilai of poisoning a British business associate.
Bo was ousted from his party posts after the scandal broke. His wife, Gu Kailai, was convicted last month of the murder.
The indictment of Wang was widely anticipated, although some had thought he might be charged with more serious crimes, such as treason for turning to the Americans or for involvement in the murder. Instead, the charges filed appear to be relatively minor -- the equivalent in U.S. law of dereliction of duty.
During last month’s trial of Gu, prosecutors claimed that Wang knew in advance that Gu was planning to murder the victim, Neil Heywood, and helped her cover her tracks. In the brief announcement Wednesday night, the state news service simply said that Wang "consciously neglected his duty and bent the law for personal gain so that [Gu] would not be held legally responsible."
Wang, 52, is perhaps the most eccentric character in the burgeoning political scandal consuming China. An ethnic Mongolian, he was an inventor, amateur forensic scientist and flamboyant crime fighter who had been the subject of a fawning television drama. As police chief in Chongqing, where Bo was party secretary, he carried out Bo’s well-publicized arrests of thousands of suspected organized crime members.
According to a Chinese journalist writing a book on the subject, Wang also had a penchant for wiretapping his superiors. Earlier this year, he had been caught taping calls between another Chongqing official and Chinese President Hu Jintao, according to the journalist.
"Wang was already in trouble when he went to the U.S. consulate. Bo Xilai couldn’t protect him. That’s why he turned on Bo Xilai," said the journalist, who asked not to be quoted by name.
Wang spent a day in the U.S. consulate before surrendering to officials from Beijing. The State Department says that he never requested asylum and left of his own free will.
-- Barbara Demick
Photo: Former Chongqing police Chief Wang Lijun in 2008. Credit: Associated Press