It took less than two weeks to try, convict and sentence Gu Kailai. That shows how seriously the case has been viewed by the Chinese ruling Communist Party.
More politically dangerous will be dealing with her husband, Bo Xilai. According to the experts, he could be purged as Beijing moves ahead with a leadership transition.
Yet his name never came up during his wife’s trial, so there may be room for negotiation, they say. Bo has only been accused of unspecified violations of party discipline that may include corruption and abuse of power.
Gu poisoned Neil Heywood last November in a hotel in the major southwestern Chinese city of Chungking – her husband’s fiefdom. Bo was a member of the Central Politburo and secretary of the Communist Party’s Chungking branch.
Heywood and the couple became friends in 1994, and he found out about their transfers of money abroad. The city’s police chief and Bo’s former right hand man Wang Lijun revealed Heywood had threatened to go public with this.
In the murder investigation, Gu became a suspect, then Wang was sacked from the force. Four policemen have been convicted of having sought to protect Gu from investigation. This shows there was an attempted cover-up.
Bo had made powerful enemies in Beijing with his populist leadership style and with his strong appeal to Maoist leftists in the Communist Party. Bo and Gu’s revolutionary family connections brought power and wealth.
They moved to Chungking in 2007, where Bo launched a bloody anti-mafia campaign against alleged gangsters, as economic development went ahead at breakneck speed. Though once a media darling, the murder case ended Bo’s career.
The authorities are wary this could pit traditionalists against the reformers, in the runup to the important meeting in October of the Communists’ highest body.
China analyst Johnny Lau Yui Siu said: “Bo Xilai was still described as ‘comrade’ by the other senior party members, so I think this is because the top leaders would like to minimise the impact towards the 18th Party Congress.”
The October event is supposed to usher in new key figures, with a turnover set to shape what is being described as the most significant leadership transition in decades.
Bo’s name was in the running, but not any more.