Last updated: August 19, 2012 3:55 pm

Gu Kailai verdict set for Monday

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Gu Kailai (front, C), wife of ousted Chinese Communist Party Politburo member Bo Xilai, attends a trial in the court room©Reuters

The verdict in the murder trial of the wife of disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai will be announced on Monday, wrapping up a key phase in the Communist party’s efforts to deal with its biggest internal crisis in decades.

Mr Bo’s wife Gu Kailai and Zhang Xiaojun, a former family aide and co-defendant, were tried in the eastern city of Hefei on August 9 on charges of murdering Neil Heywood, the Bo family’s British business agent.

The verdict would be announced at 9am on Monday, said the Hefei Intermediate People’s Court.

Ms Gu is widely expected to be found guilty because Chinese state media had spoken of “irrefutable evidence” against her even before the trial started, and she confessed in court, according to observers present at the trial.

Chinese courts, which play a growing role in commercial disputes in the country, enjoy little or no independence in cases that are considered politically sensitive or touch upon the interests of government or party officials, well-connected individuals or state enterprises.

Ms Gu’s trial, which lasted for less than eight hours, was tightly stage-managed, with authorities barring access for foreign media.

The official accounts of the proceedings have triggered doubts and debate over the validity of Ms Gu’s reported confession and other details of the trial.

Two security experts familiar with facial recognition software said the person shown in state television footage of the courtroom was not Ms Gu.

Legal experts said Ms Gu was most likely to receive a death sentence commuted to a lengthy jail term, or life imprionment.

This assumption is based on the authorities’ claim that Ms Gu had confessed – in Chinese criminal trials a key move for defendants who hope to be treated leniently – and on the argument that she had poisoned Heywood to protect her son after Heywood had threatened him over an investment dispute.

The verdict comes as the Communist party leadership appears to have finished a conclave in the seaside town of Beidaihe at which it discussed the line-up of the next generation leadership, to be formally picked at the party’s upcoming 18th congress.

The leadership is seen as wanting to finish the purge of Mr Bo and its official explanation before the leadership transition.

The populist politician had openly campaigned for a post on the next leadership.

Mr Bo was replaced as party secretary of the municipality of Chongqing in March after Wang Lijun, his former police chief, fled to a US consulate and offered detail on the alleged murder of Heywood.

In April, the authorities removed Mr Bo from his other party posts and announced a party-internal investigation against him for “serious discipline violations”, as well as the arrest of Ms Gu on suspicion of murdering Mr Heywood.

But the party has yet to explain whether there is any link between Mr Bo’s removal and Ms Gu’s criminal prosecution.

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