China pressed ahead with an offensive against ousted politician Bo Xilai today, a day after the murder trial of his wife, with a separate prosecution of four police officers accused of trying to cover up the killing that she was accused of.
The dismissed officers went on trial for "bending the law to show favouritism" by shielding Bo's wife, Gu Kailai, from an inquiry into the death of Briton Neil Heywood.
Gu stood trial for poisoning the businessman over a financial transaction that went sour, according to a court statement. She did not dispute the murder charge during yesterday’s seven-hour, closed-door trial hearing and a verdict will soon be delivered, the statement said.
Heywood's death in November and its alleged cover-up in Bo's stronghold of Chongqing, the southwestern municipality he ran, was central to the torrent of events that toppled him from the Politburo and exposed the ruling Communist Party to its worst upheaval in decades.
The party's priority now is ensuring top-down control before a handover of power to a new generation of leaders this year.
The legal noose is tightening fast on Bo's wife and police involved in investigating the murder case, suggesting there is a danger Bo could himself face charges of masterminding a cover-up and could risk a lengthy jail term.
The South China Morning Post said today that Bo's former Chongqing police chief, Wang Lijun, would stand trial as early as next week in the southwestern city of Chengdu. Wang sought temporary refuge in Chengdu's US consulate in February after sources said he told Bo that Gu was a murder suspect.
Wang's dramatic flight to the US mission triggered the murder scandal that quickly led to Bo's downfall. Until then, Heywood's death had been officially attributed to a possible heart attack brought on by excessive alcohol consumption.
Chinese media stuck to the terse official account of Gu's trial, despite avid public interest in this scandal that has exposed the fusion of wealth and privilege in China's political elite, and exposed rifts in the party.
Bo, 63, has not been a focus of the proceedings so far. But most experts believe the trial and almost certain conviction of his wife Gu and the four police officers is a prelude to his punishment, which could include a criminal trial.