The increasingly strange case of Gu Kailai
(Bo and Co. in happier times)
The Bo Xilai saga took another bizarre turn yesterday when his wife, Gu Kailai was officially charged with the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood. From the Washington Post-
“The brief Xinhua dispatch said Gu and the aide, Zhang Xiaojun, were formally charged in a court in Hefei, in Anhui province, after prosecutors interrogated them and spoke to their defense team.
Xinhua, quoting unnamed investigators, alleged that Gu and Zhang poisoned Heywood after Gu and Heywood had a business conflict that also involved her son. The report said Gu believed Heywood was threatening her son.
The son is not named in the report but is believed to be Bo Guagua, a recent graduate of Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, who is thought to be in the United States.
Xinhua said the court in Hefei “will hold a trial on a day to be decided.” Based on Chinese practice, it is likely to be soon. There was no explanation as to why Anhui province was selected for the prosecution, because the alleged crime took place in Chongqing. But politically sensitive cases are often moved to more distant locations.
“Worrying about Neil Heywood’s threat to her son’s personal security, Bogu Kailai along with Zhang Xiaojun, the other defendant, poisoned Neil Heywood to death,” Xinhua alleged.
“The facts of the two defendants’ crime are clear, and the evidence is irrefutable and substantial,” the Xinhua report said. “Therefore, the two defendants should be charged with intentional homicide.”
Since the beginning of the saga, official announcements have referred to Gu Kailai by the surname “Bogu,” combining Bo’s name with her maiden name, Gu. The practice is not common in China but is sometimes used by Chinese abroad.
There was no mention by Xinhua of the fate of Bo, who was considered a high-flier in the Communist Party hierarchy, destined for a promotion to the powerful Politburo Standing Committee, until his abrupt dismissal as Chongqing party boss in March.
Neither Bo nor his wife have been seen publicly in recent months. There had been no official statements on the case since an April 10 report announcing that Bo had been stripped of his remaining party positions as Gu and the aide were arrested on suspicion of murder.
China’s ruling Communist Party is preparing for a once-in-a-decade leadership transition this year. The Bo scandal has upended the carefully choreographed transition and exposed infighting and rifts within the party’s top ranks
Despite a wall of silence surrounding the case, senior Chinese officials speaking to diplomats, visiting academics and others have hinted that they wanted it settled before the opening this fall of the 18th Party Congress, which will select a new president and prime minister and fill seven vacant slots on the Politburo Standing Committee, which effectively runs the country.
Officials had previously suggested that Gu and the household servant would face severe judicial punishment in the Heywood killing. But there is uncertainty over how deeply Bo was involved or whether he would be punished by the courts or simply disciplined by the Communist Party……
Heywood was found dead in his Chongqing hotel room Nov. 15, and police initially said he died of heavy drinking.
The body was cremated before an autopsy was performed, but media reports have been filled with speculation that Wang may have kept some hair samples or other evidence in hopes of proving that Heywood was poisoned.” – Keith B. Richburg, Washington Post
PARSING THE STORY, WHAT DO WE MAKE OF THIS-
I keep coming back to the phrase “the evidence is irrefutable and substantial.” It seems unlikely that authorities would risk a case of this caliber without overwhelming evidence. With a leadership transition in the works and Bo already disgraced and out of power, authorities have little incentive to air this type of dirty laundry. It seems probable then that investigators do have considerable evidence and want to move as quickly as possible to get this out of the way before the party congress in October. Without a “smoking gun” leadership would probably have seen fit to let Gu live out her days quietly under house arrest. This would have avoided any negative press coming from a trial and allowed leadership to continue rebuilding the “united façade” that was shattered by the Bo Xilai imbroglio.
Reports say that Gu was concerned about the threat Heywood posed to her son Bo Guagua’s “personal security”. This certainly opens up more questions than it resolves. Previously it was assumed an economic dispute was the motive for Heywood’s murder. What threat could Heywood have possibly posed considering he was in Chengdu, and Bo GuaGua was in Cambridge, Massachusetts studying at Harvard’s Kennedy School? Unless Heywood was some sort of James Bond-esque figure it seems highly unlikely that he could have threatened GuaGua’s physical security. Is it possible that Heywood had some particularly damning, undisclosed information about the young Bo? To venture in to the realm of rampant speculation could Heywood have possessed information that Bo Guagua was involved in criminal activity himself? Could Guagua have been acting as a “fence” for his family to smuggle money out of the PRC? Was he involved in academic misconduct or drug abuse that Heywood threatened to disclose to the media? It seems like murder would be a gratuitous reaction to a blackmail threat, but in China parents will go to great lengths to protect their children’s reputations. Still, this goes above and beyond. Hopefully some of these questions will be answered in Gu’s trial, but given the opaque nature of China’s judicial system, I highly doubt it.