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Closed-door murder trial: Wife of ousted politician Bo Xilai faces China court

China's most politically explosive trial rapped in a matter of hours when Gu Kailai, the wife of Chinese politician Bo Xilai, did not object to murder charges against her. ITV's Angus Walker reports.

Updated at 8:40 a.m. ET: HEFEI, China -- The woman at the center of China's most politically explosive trial in three decades did not contest charges of murder on Thursday in a hearing that lasted just seven hours and could determine the fate of former politician Bo Xilai.

Bo's wife, Gu Kailai, chose not to contest the charge of murdering British businessman Neil Heywood, whose alleged secretive dealings with the couple fuelled a scandal exposing the intimate nexus between money and power in China's elite.

A formal verdict will be delivered at a later date, a court official said, recounting details of the closed-door hearing.

CCTV via Reuters TV

Gu Kailai, center, appears at the Hefei Intermediate People's Court on Thursday.



The dramatic account of Heywood's death by poisoning is also likely to sound the final death knell to Bo's political career, even as sympathizers cast him as the victim of a push to oust him and discredit his left-leaning agenda.

"The accused Bogu (Gu) Kailai and Zhang Xiaojun did not raise objections to the accusations of intentional homicide," the official, Tang Yigan, said after the hearing, referring also to Gu's co-accused, an aide to the family. 

State television showed Gu, wearing a dark pant suit and white shirt, being led into the courtroom and being seated in the dock. She appeared to have put on weight since she was detained earlier this year. 

Wife of ousted China politician charged with Briton's murder

Reuters

This photo shows Bo Xilai, British businessman Neil Heywood and Bo's wife Gu Kailai.

The court official quoted prosecutors as saying Gu and Zhang had killed Heywood with a poisoned drink in far southwestern Chongqing last November, after a business dispute between Gu and Heywood. Bo ruled the vast municipality until he was sacked in March just before the murder scandal burst into the open. 

As a result of the dispute with Heywood, Gu had become convinced Heywood was a threat to her son, Bo Guagua, the official said without elaborating. 

"Gu Kailai believed that Neil Heywood had threatened the personal safety of her son Bo (Guagua) and decided to kill him," the official added, reading from a statement to a packed news conference of dozens of reporters who had been barred entry to the courtroom in the eastern city of Hefei. 

The aide, Zhang, had driven Heywood to Chongqing last November from Beijing and prepared a poison which was to be put later into a drink of water. Later that day, Heywood met Gu at a hotel, where he became drunk and then asked for water. 

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"She poured a poison into his mouth," the official said. 

Gu was represented by government-appointed lawyers. Her trial is seen by many Chinese as part of a push against her husband Bo, who made powerful enemies as he campaigned to join the next generation of top central leaders.

Bo was formerly considered a contender for the inner sanctum of power -- the party's Politburo Standing Committee -- in a once-in-a-decade leadership transition that is currently under way. The new leadership is expected to be unveiled in October.

Earlier, a British diplomat was seen entering the court, but did not comment. International media were not allowed into the court.

Censorship
State censorship of Internet chatter on the trial was swifter than normal on Thursday. Users of China's popular Twitter-like service Sina Weibo played cat and mouse with authorities to discuss the case and used word play to try to get around the controls.

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Police dragged two protesters away from outside the Hefei Intermediate People's Court in eastern China. The two Bo supporters kicked and yelled as they were put into an unmarked car after they had appeared outside the building, condemning the trial as a sham and singing patriotic songs that were the trademark of Bo's populist leadership style.

"I don't believe it. This case was decided well in advance," Hu Jiye, a middle-aged man wearing a T-shirt and baseball cap, told foreign reporters at the rear of the court building, which was cordoned off by dozens of police standing in heavy rain.

Eugene Hoshiko / AP

Police officers stand guard outside a court where the murder trial of Gu Kailai was held on Thursday in Hefei, China.

Hu and his friend were then shoved by police officers into a car. His companion, also a middle-aged man, struggled and yelled, "Why are you taking me? Why are you taking me?"

But many ordinary Chinese citizens were unaware of the trial, or felt that it had little impact on their lives. 

"We are not really interested in the Bo Xilai and Gu Kailai cases because they are far removed from us, we are very busy with our daily lives," Beijing construction manager Ji Jiaminghe told NBC News. 

"The lesson of the Bo Xilai case is that it was wrong to go against the political mainstream," Ji said, even as he acknowledged that he loved to sing and listen to the "Red Songs" that Bo promoted. 

Communist Party aristocracy
The trial of Gu, the glamorous daughter of ruling Communist Party aristocracy, is the most sensational since the conviction of the Gang of Four more than 30 years ago for crimes during the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution.

China's Communist party unleashes its full weight against former politician Bo Xilai and his wife over a murder scandal. ITN's Angus Walker reports from Beijing.

Gu and family aide Zhang Xiaojun face the death penalty if convicted of poisoning the former family friend.

Police sources initially claimed Gu had poisoned Heywood in a disagreement over an illicit financial transaction she had wanted him to help her complete, and they portrayed Gu as a greedy wife who was translating her husband's connections into dollars.

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But Gu's alleged personal motive for the killing --  that Gu believed Heywood was a threat to her son -- may count as a mitigating circumstance and help Gu avoid execution.

Any hesitance to put Gu to death would make sense, according to Hu Xingdou, an outspoken blogger and frequent government critic, told NBC News. 

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"The death penalty is not likely precisely because a political struggle is involved and people don't like political rivals being executed," he said.

In announcing the indictment about two weeks ago, the official Xinhua News Agency made clear the government considers the verdict a foregone conclusion.

"The facts of the two defendants' crime are clear, and the evidence is irrefutable and substantial," it said.

The trial and sentencing of both Gu and Zhang are widely seen as a prelude to a possible criminal prosecution of Bo, who is being detained for violating party discipline -- an accusation that covers corruption, abuse of power and other misdeeds.

In what's being called the biggest Chinese political scandal in years, Bo Xilai, the Communist  Party secretary in Chongqing, was sacked Thursday. NBC's Ed Flanagan reports.

Bo, who was a favorite of party leftists and promoted himself as a friend of the poor and an enemy of corruption, was sacked as Chongqing party chief in March after his police chief, Wang Lijun, identified Gu as a suspect in Heywood's death.

Press behaved 'appallingly'?
On Thursday morning, there was no sign of Gu's elderly mother, nor of any members of Heywood's family in or around the courtroom.

In London, Heywood's mother accused the press of spreading lies about her son. "You've all behaved so appallingly," Ann Heywood said Wednesday outside her home.

British media have suggested Neil Heywood was involved in money laundering, worked for British intelligence or that he was Gu's lover. Ann Heywood claimed to know more about the case than was in the public domain, but she wasn't specific and said the truth would come out eventually.

 More China coverage from NBCNews.com's Behind the Wall blog

Before his ouster in the spring, Bo, also the son of a revolutionary veteran, was one of China's most powerful and charismatic politicians. But his overt maneuvering for a top political job, as well as high-profile campaigns to bust organized crime and promote communist culture -- while trampling over civil liberties and reviving memories of the chaotic Cultural Revolution in the process -- angered some leaders.

Bo is the first Politburo member to be removed from office in five years and the scandal kicked up talk of a political struggle involving Bo supporters intent on derailing succession plans calling for Vice President Xi Jinping to lead the party for the next decade.

Bo is in the hands of the party's internal discipline and inspection commission, which is expected to issue a statement about his infractions. That would open the way for a court trial with charges possibly including obstructing police work and abuse of power. Thus far, Bo has been accused only of grievous but unspecified rules violations.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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