BEIJING – A Chinese police chief whose flight to a U.S. consulate set off a messy political scandal will stand trial Tuesday on charges of attempted defection and bribery, as China's leadership tries to wrap up the turbulent affair before new leaders are put in power in coming weeks.
The case of former Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun will be heard Tuesday in an open trial, an official at the Chengdu Intermediate People's Court said Friday in a phone interview. The official said he had no further details and would only give his surname, He.
Wang is a central figure in a scandal that embarrassed the Communist Party, brought down a prominent up-and-coming leader, Bo Xilai, and led to a murder conviction against Bo's wife, Gu Kailai. The party is keen to resolve Wang's case ahead of a key meeting — widely expected in late October — where a younger generation of leaders will be named.
"In line with the Gu Kailai case, the Chinese leadership certainly would like to complete the trial of Wang Lijun well before the 18th party congress to separate these cases from Bo Xilai," said Joseph Cheng, a political science professor at the City University of Hong Kong.
But as China's leadership tries to resolve one source of political intrigue, another is brewing. The country's leader-in-waiting, Xi Jinping, has been out of sight for nearly two weeks, sparking rumors about his health and raising questions about the stability of the succession process.
Wang fled to the U.S. consulate in Chengdu in early February after being demoted by Bo, then the powerful Communist Party boss in nearby Chongqing.
During his overnight stay at the consulate, Wang expressed to the Americans his concerns about last year's death of British businessman Neil Heywood, a close business associate of the Bo family. That prompted the British Embassy to request a new investigation, which uncovered that Heywood had been murdered.
Bo's wife, Gu Kailai, was given a suspended death sentence for the murder last month. Three leading Chongqing police officers and a Bo family aide were also sentenced as accomplices in the murder and subsequent cover-up.
Bo was dismissed in March and remains under investigation by the ruling party's disciplinary branch for unspecified grave violations of discipline.
Wang has been charged with defection, bribe-taking, "bending the law for selfish ends" and abuse of power, though details have not been provided. State media announcements about his indictment did not mention Bo.
Shenyang-based attorney Wang Yuncai, reportedly a close friend of Wang's, had previously said she has been approved by the court to serve as Wang Lijun's defense lawyer. Reached by phone Friday, Wang Yuncai would say only she was in a meeting before hanging up.
In announcing Wang's indictment last week, the official Xinhua News Agency said Wang knew that Gu was under serious suspicion of murdering Heywood, but "consciously neglected his duty and bent the law for personal gain" so Gu would not be held responsible.
It also said Wang "left his post without authorization and defected to the United States Consulate General in Chengdu." It is not known if he made a direct request for asylum, something U.S. diplomats say they would not have been able to grant.
Wang had been Bo's right-hand man in Chongqing, spearheading a controversial crackdown on organized crime that critics say featured torture and other violations of procedure, as well as illegal confiscation of assets and the targeting of political opponents.