China has cleared a path for criminal proceedings against the mercurial princeling politician Bo Xilai after he was alluded to in an official account of a murder committed by his wife.
Bo belted his police chief in the face after he told him that his wife, Gu Kailai, was "highly suspected" of murdering Englishman Neil Heywood, said a Xinhua report of court proceedings released overnight.
The report was the first official mention of Bo - alluded to only as "the then leading party official in Chongqing" - since he was suspended from Politburo duties in April.
A sensational and tragic chain of events beginning with Heywood's cyanide poisoning in November has already sent shockwaves through Communist Party politics and destabilised the crucial leadership transition expected to place soon.
Bo's relentless politicking and now his downfall have opened factional, patronage, ideological, commercial and policy differences within the party.
Close political watchers say the party now faces a greater crisis of credibility and greater uncertainty than any time since the aftermath of the Tiananmen massacres as it works to forge a new consensus without the aid of revolutionary heroes to guide the process.
It has also struggled to build institutionalised mechanisms to mediate differences between leaders and interest groups, despite China's increasingly pluralistic society.
The Xinhua report was the first detailed account of the "open" trial of Bo's former police chief and most trusted lieutenant, Wang Lijun, held in Chengdu on Monday and Tuesday.
Independent journalists were barred from proceedings.
Wang was charged with bribery, bending the law for personal gain, illegal electronic surveillance and defecting to the United States.
The party, which tightly controls the police, procurator and courts, has a near-perfect conviction rate with serious charges.
The court heard that Wang was close to Bo's wife, Gu Kailai, and frequently visited her at home, it said.
Wang actively covered up Gu's murder of Heywood on November 14, but also secretly recorded a subsequent conversation where she recounted details to him.
A month later, around December 14, Gu grew suspicious of Wang and an illegal investigation was initiated into his affairs.
Wang confronted "the then leading party official of Chongqing" with his suspicions on January 28, said Xinhua, referring to Bo.
"On the morning of January 29, Wang Lijun was angrily rebuked and slapped in the face by the official," said the report.
Wang immediately re-opened the case file and collated evidence he had previously set aside.
"Wang Lijun on the same day ordered… individuals to re-obtain testimonies from witnesses, properly protect key material evidence, including the blood extracted from Neil Heywood's heart, reorganise the evidence and documents regarding [Gu] Kailai's suspicion in murdering Neil Heywood, and provided his secret recording materials," said Xinhua.
In February 2 Wang was sacked from his police role and shifted to a different portfolio, it said, and three of his close associates were arrested at about the same time.
That's when Wang began thinking of defecting, said Xinhua.
"On February 6, under the pretext of discussing business, Wang cancelled his original work arrangements and entered the US Consulate General in Chengdu at 2.31 pm without permission," it said.
"After briefly discussing issues concerning environmental protection, education and science and technology with diplomats inside the US consulate, Wang immediately claimed that his personal security was threatened because of his investigation of criminal cases," said Xinhua.
"He asked the United States to provide shelter for him and filled out an application for political asylum," it said.
The Xinhua account of the prosecution case contradicts American Government claims that he never requested asylum.
"Wang left the US Consulate General in Chengdu of his own volition at 11.35pm on February 7," said Xinhua.
As well as the lurid details of murder, double-crossing and rampant abuse of power, the Xinhua report detailed how businessman and officials could buy and sell justice for their friends.
It names Xu Ming, an acolyte of Bo's who became one of China's richest men, as buying two Beijing apartments for 2.85 million yuan for one of Wang's immediate family members.
"After the deal, Wang gave his thanks to Xu in person," it said.
"In July of the same year, Wang, at the request of Xu, instructed law enforcement departments in Chongqing to release three people, respectively surnamed Pan, Wang and Zhang, who were under detention."
Similarly, it says another Bo crony called Yu Junshi, who was disgraced PLA intelligence officer, made payments of 200,000 yuan to release an acquaintance.
Prosecutors said Wang should receive a more lenient sentence for defection after he voluntarily gave himself over to Chinese authorities outside the US Consulate.
His initial cover up of Gu's murder was "especially serious" but mitigated by him playing "a crucial role in helping public security authorities to crack the case", the prosecutors said.
Last month Gu was given a suspended death sentence for murdering Heywood, which is expected to be commuted to a jail term of perhaps a dozen years.
She said she acting to protect the personal safety of her son, Bo Guagua.
Wang also deserved credit for producing "important clues that exposed serious offences committed by others", said Xinhua, without saying whether those ‘others' included Bo Xilai.
Some political watchers expect Bo will be officially funnelled from the party's internal discipline procedures onto a criminal track following an imminent party meeting.
That would then clear the path to hold the 18th Party Congress, where a leadership team will be unveiled around President Hu Jintao's anointed replacement, Xi Jinping.
- Sydney Morning Herald