20 Aug 2012

Gu Kailai jailed for murder of British businessman

The wife of a disgraced Chinese politician is given a suspended death sentence for murdering British businessman Neil Heywood.

Gu Kailai poisoned Mr Heywood with cyanide last year in the south-western city of Chongqing, where her husband Bo Xilai was chief of the Communist Party, the court in Hefei heard.

A suspended death sentence is usually commuted to life imprisonment under the country’s legal system.

A family aide was jailed for nine years for his part in the death of Mr Heywood, a former associate of the family.

Mr Bo was dismissed in March as party secretary for Chongqing, having once been considered a strong contender for a top position.

He Zhengsheng, a lawyer for Mr Heywood, said he had to discuss the verdict with the Heywood family and did not know if they would lodge an appeal.

He added: “We respect the court’s ruling today. Thank you all for your concern.”

Confession of homicide

The Hefei court has been closed to international media, but state media said Gu confessed to intentional homicide at a one-day trial in the eastern city on 9 August under heavy guard.

According to the reports, she and Mr Heywood had a dispute over money and Mr Heywood allegedly threatened her son.

The official Xinhua News Agency said she was depressed and on medication at the time. The family aide, Zhang Xiaojun, also confessed after being charged as an accessory.

The British embassy, whose consular officials attended the trial, said in a statement that it welcomed the fact China had tried those who were identified as being responsible for killing Mr Heywood.

The embassy said it had “wanted to see the trials in this case conform to international human rights standards and for the death penalty not to be applied”.

Alcohol abuse

Mr Heywood’s death in a hotel last November was initially ruled an accident and put down to alcohol abuse, although his friends insisted he was not a heavy drinker.

Gu’s arrest and the ousting of her husband sparked the biggest political turbulence in China since the bloody crackdown on the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests in 1989.

It is not yet known what Mr Bo’s fate will be, as he has been investigated by his party over corruption claims.