BEIJING – A Chinese court will deliver a verdict in the murder trial of disgraced politician Bo Xilai's wife on Monday, as the Communist Party moves a step closer to resolving a scandal that has threatened to overshadow China's once-a-decade leadership handover.
Gu Kailai is accused of killing British businessman Neil Heywood after having a dispute over money and worrying that he had threatened her son's safety, while a family aide has been named as Gu's accessory. State media reports say Gu has confessed to the murder.
A guilty verdict is a foregone conclusion, with only the sentence not known. It could range up to life in prison or even the death penalty, although experts do not expect Gu to receive that.
An official with the information office of the Hefei Intermediate People's Court where last week's trial of Gu and the aide, Zhang Xiaojun, was held said a verdict will be announced Monday morning. The staffer refused to give her name, as is customary of many Chinese officials.
Asked if reporters could apply to attend the hearing, the court staffer said it would be open to the public but that all seats in the courtroom had "already been taken up." A similar tactic for last Thursday's trial effectively prevented the foreign media from observing the proceedings inside the courtroom.
Gu's arrest and the ouster of her husband, the Communist Party boss of the southwestern mega-city of Chongqing until March, sparked the biggest political turbulence in China since the bloody military crackdown on democracy protesters on Tiananmen Square in 1989.
In a lengthy account of the case, the official Xinhua News Agency has depicted Gu as a depressed woman on medication who turned willful murderer after Heywood threatened the safety of her son, Bo Guagua. Gu is accused of luring the victim to a hotel in Chongqing, getting him drunk then pouring cyanide into his mouth.
It says Gu and her co-defendant "confessed to intentional homicide" and appeared repentant in court during a speedy, seven-hour trial on Aug. 9.
While the government has sought to portray the case as an open-and-shut criminal proceeding unrelated to high-level political wrangling, its official statements about it have failed to clarify glaring omissions in the case.
Legal and political scholars say much of the narrative that has so far been presented leaves major questions unanswered, not least of which is whether, or to what extent, Bo Xilai was involved in the crime allegedly committed by his wife in the city that he ruled with a firm grip and even ran a high-profile crackdown on mafia gangs. Bo's name has been conspicuously left out of official accounts of the case.
The case only came to light in February when former Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun suddenly fled to a U.S. consulate and told American diplomats about his suspicions that Heywood had been murdered and that Bo's family was involved.
The trial was seen as a step toward resolving the scandal before the Communist Party's once-a-decade leadership transition this fall. Before his fall, Bo was a contender for a top job.