British envoys arrive for China murder trial
HEFEI, China, Aug 9 — British diplomats entered a courtroom in an eastern Chinese city today for the opening of the country’s most sensational trial in three decades, a hearing into the murder of a British businessman that has rocked the Communist Party leadership.
Entry to the courtroom was restricted but the diplomats were invited to be present because of the nationality of the victim. Journalists were not being allowed in, and it appeared any coverage would be only from state media outlets.
The trial is expected to lead to the swift conviction of Gu Kailai, the wife of ousted Chinese politician Bo Xilai, and her co-accused, a family aide, who are charged with poisoning Briton Neil Heywood last year.
Bo was formerly considered a contender for the inner sanctum of power — the party’s Politburo Standing Committee — in a once-in-a-decade leadership transition that is currently underway. The new leadership is expected to be unveiled in October.
Though many Chinese believe Gu may be guilty, they see her trial as part of a push against Bo, an ambitious populist who made powerful enemies as he campaigned to join the next generation of top central leaders.
Two British envoys, arriving in heavy rain at the granite-and-glass courthouse in eastern Hefei city, told a scrum of reporters outside the building they would not discuss the case but were expecting to court to eventually make a statement.
“There will be a briefing afterwards,” said one the diplomats as the pair arrived amid tight security. He later added that the court could simply make a statement instead.
The courthouse was ringed by dozens of police, with some surrounding streets blocked off with cones.
Gu, herself a career lawyer, is set to be defended by a state-appointed lawyer with meagre experience in criminal cases, leaving little doubt she will be convicted.
The state has decided who will represent Gu, denying her the use of a family lawyer - a move that has also prompted Gu’s 90-year-old mother, Fan Xiucheng, to recently complain to the Justice Ministry, according to a source close to the family.
“The answer (from the ministry) was that the legal process did not have to be fully carried out in this case and that Fan should stop pestering them,” the source said.
The trial of Gu, glamorous daughter of the ruling Communist Party aristocracy, is the most politically sensitive since the conviction of the Gang of Four more than 30 years ago for crimes during the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution.
But despite British calls for the case to be handled fairly and to unearth the truth around Heywood’s death, her defence has instead been entrusted to two provincial lawyers.
The two lawyers, Jiang Min and Zhou Yuhao, could not be reached for comment but a search of public information shows the more senior lawyer, Jiang, is a specialist in financial cases and that neither has any obvious connection to the Bo family.
A newspaper profile of Jiang from 2005, which was posted on Jiang’s own website, quoted him as saying that he was “an expert in financial law, who rarely conducts criminal defences”, although he has represented some officials accused of corruption in the more than 20 years he has been practising law.
The trial and sentencing of both Gu and Zhang, are widely expected to be completed within a few weeks at most. The case is seen as a prelude to a possible criminal prosecution of Bo, who is being detained for violating party discipline — an accusation that covers corruption, abuse of power and other misdeeds.
The move against Bo, who was a favourite of party leftists by promoting himself as a friend of the poor and an enemy of corruption, was sacked as Chongqing party chief in March after his police chief, Wang Lijun, identified Gu as a suspect in Heywood’s death.
This morning, with the trial set to begin around 8.30 a.m. (0030 GMT), there was no sign of Gu’s elderly mother, nor of any members of Heywood’s family in or around the courtroom. — Reuters
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