Wang Lijun, the former Chongqing police chief whose visit to a U.S. consulate in February triggered the downfall of one of China’s most ambitious political leaders, was sentenced to a 15-year prison term on Monday. Wang was convicted of abuse of power, bribe taking, defection and “bending the law for selfish ends.” He told the Chengdu Intermediate People’s Court that he does not plan to appeal the ruling, the official Xinhua news service reported.
Wang visited the U.S. consulate in Chengdu, a city in southwestern China, on Feb. 6 and spent more than 24 hours there, revealing details about Bo Xilai, the Communist Party boss of the nearby megacity of Chongqing. Among the shocking news that emerged was that Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, had poisoned British businessman Neil Heywood in a Chongqing hotel the previous November. Gu was convicted of Heywood’s murder in August and received a suspended death sentence, which will likely be commuted to a lengthy prison term.
Wang’s revelations have roiled China during a sensitive period of political transition. The country’s top leaders — President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao — are expected to begin the process of stepping down later this fall. Before the scandal erupted some analysts said Bo was a likely candidate for the Politburo’s Standing Committee, the country’s top decisionmaking body, when it is reconfigured at the upcoming 18th Party Congress.
Following the convictions of his wife and former deputy, political analysts have parsed the court rulings for clues about Bo’s fate. The Party Congress is expected to occur in October, though a date has yet to be revealed. That gives little time for a trial that might sully the rollout of a new group of leaders. Likewise, Bo’s name was not mentioned in the official coverage of his wife’s trial. He was discussed circuitously in Xinhua’s description of Wang’s trial, which used only his title when it said “the then leading official of the Communist Party of China Chongqing committee” slapped Wang after Wang told him Gu was suspected of murdering Heywood.
Those factors suggest that Bo may be treated leniently, possibly avoiding a criminal trial altogether and only undergoing a Communist Party disciplinary procedure, says Bo Zhiyue, a senior research fellow and expert on Chinese politics at the National University of Singapore’s East Asian Institute. “I think they have to be very careful about the Bo Xilai case, otherwise it’s going to backfire,” says Bo Zhiyue, who is not related to Bo Xilai. “They will probably pursue disciplinary charges against him and not a legal case. If you read the whole case it seems like Bo Xilai was not aware [of the murder allegations] until late January.”
Chinese lawyers have said that Wang’s sentence is somewhat lenient for the allegations he faced. He was convicted of “bending the law for selfish ends,” a charge related to his initial ordering of subordinates to cover up the murder of Heywood; receiving $475,000 in bribes; defection, for his visit to the U.S. consulate; and abuse of power for ordering illegal electronic surveillance, possibly of central political leaders. Cheng Li, a China expert at the Brookings Institution, argues that most of the charges against Wang were related to his relationship with his former boss. That could signal that the leadership wants to take a tough approach to the former Chongqing party secretary. “That’s certainly very bad news for Bo Xilai,” Li says.
A maverick who boasted of fighting organized crime in northeast China, Bo called Wang to Chongqing after he was made party chief there in 2007. He led a crackdown on organized crime that was widely popular, even as it emerged that Wang’s officers flouted basic legal protections and sometimes tortured suspects. Hu Shuli, editor in chief of the business magazine Caixin, wrote that Wang’s willingness to protect Gu despite his reputation as a crime fighter was one of the ironies of the case. “When mafia members break up with their bosses, they can attempt to seek police protection,” Hu wrote. “But in Chongqing and for the former police boss, there was nowhere to turn. And this perhaps encapsulates one of the greatest embarrassments of the country’s current legal system.”
Li Zhuang, a defense attorney who was jailed and abused by police during Wang’s crackdown, said he felt the former Chongqing police boss’ trial was incomplete. “In my opinion, they left something out,” he wrote on Sina Weibo, a Chinese microblog service. “There should be a retrial on ordering the use of torture to extort confessions and manufacture a huge number of false charges.”