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China puts cops on trial for 'bending the law' to help wife of ousted politician

China's most politically explosive trial wrapped 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.

HEFEI, China -- China pressed ahead Friday with an offensive against ousted politician Bo Xilai, a day after the murder trial of his wife, with a separate prosecution of four police officers accused of trying to cover up the killing that she allegedly carried out.

The dismissed officers went on trial for "bending the law to show favoritism" by shielding Bo's wife, Gu Kailai, from an inquiry into the death of Briton Neil Heywood.

Gu stood trial for poisoning the businessman over a financial transaction that went sour, according to a court statement. She did not dispute the murder charge during Thursday's seven-hour, closed-door trial hearing and a verdict will soon be delivered, the statement said.


Heywood's death in November and its alleged cover-up in Bo's stronghold of Chongqing, the southwestern municipality he ran, was central to the torrent of events that toppled him from the upper echelons of Chinese political power and exposed the ruling Communist Party to its worst upheaval in decades.

Legal noose tightens
Bo was one of China's most powerful and charismatic politicians until he was ousted.

The legal noose is tightening fast on Bo's wife and police involved in investigating the murder case, suggesting there is a danger Bo could himself face charges of masterminding a cover-up and could risk a lengthy jail term.

Corruption may be widespread in China, but one official crossed a line when he wiretapped President Hu Jintau. Now that official's wife is a murder suspect. NBC's Andrea Mitchell reports.

The South China Morning Post said Friday that Bo's former Chongqing police chief, Wang Lijun, would stand trial as early as next week in the southwestern city of Chengdu. Wang sought temporary refuge in Chengdu's U.S. consulate in February after sources told Reuters that he told Bo that Gu was a murder suspect.

Wang's dramatic flight to the U.S. mission triggered the murder scandal that quickly led to Bo's downfall. Until then, Heywood's death had been officially attributed to a possible heart attack brought on by excessive alcohol consumption.

Chinese media stuck to the terse official account of Gu's trial on Friday, despite avid public interest in this scandal that has exposed the fusion of wealth and privilege in China's political elite, and exposed rifts in the party.

Bo, 63, has not been a focus of the proceedings so far. But most experts believe the trial and almost certain conviction of his wife Gu and the four police officers is a prelude to his punishment, which could include a criminal trial.

Reuters

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

Little delay likely in announcing verdict
The court in the eastern Chinese city Hefei did not say when it would announce any verdict against Gu. But the usual wait was about two weeks, Chen Guangwu, a criminal defense attorney who has followed the Chongqing scandal closely, told Reuters.

"But they won't delay for too long, because this case is being heard in order to pave the way for dealing with Bo Xilai himself," said Chen, who is based in eastern Shandong province.

"This case is in part about testing the waters for that. That is, they will sentence her and see what reaction there is in society and public opinion," he said.

Wife of ousted China politician charged with Briton's murder

Bo's downfall has stirred more public division than that of any other party leader for more than 30 years. To leftist supporters, Bo became a rallying figure for efforts to reimpose party control over dizzying and unequal market growth. To liberal critics, Bo was a dangerous opportunist who yearned to impose his harsh policies on the entire country.

As the four police officers went on trial, also in Hefei, Chinese authorities cordoned off the courthouse and excluded foreign reporters from the hearing. Vans parked nearby were bristling with video surveillance equipment.

A court spokeswoman said the case would begin at 8:30 a.m. (7:30 p.m. ET Thursday). "It's open to the public but I'm afraid all the places are full at this time," she said, according to Reuters.

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.

It was unclear whether the case began as scheduled.

The four men on trial -- Guo Weiguo, Li Yang, Wang Pengfei and Wang Zhi -- were senior police officers in Chongqing who allegedly sought to stymie an investigation into Heywood's death in a hilltop hotel villa overlooking Chongqing.

On Thursday, a court official said prosecutors believed Bo's wife, Gu, and a family aide, Zhang Xiaojun, killed Heywood by pouring poison down his throat after a business dispute led Gu to believe Heywood had threatened her son, Bo Guagua, then a student at Harvard University.

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During Gu's seven-hour hearing on Thursday, it was alleged Heywood had written a letter to Guagua, threatening to "destroy" him, a source who had been briefed on the hearing told Reuters. Heywood and Guagua had fallen into dispute over Heywood's demand for a fee to help arrange a $200 million financial transaction, the source told Reuters.

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.

Guagua, believed to be in the United States after graduating this year from Harvard University, denied there was such a deal of that value but appeared to confirm the letter's existence.

"I cannot comment on any of the details (of the letter), but I can disclose that there is no such thing as either possessing or transferring" $200 million, Guagua wrote in an e-mail sent to Reuters.

Scandal sends China's netizens into feeding frenzy

Political infighting
The scandal has drawn attention to political infighting that China prefers to keep secret and comes at a time when the government is preparing for a once-a-decade political transition — at the 18th party congress later this year, where it will install a new generation of leaders.

More China coverage from NBCNews.com's Behind The Wall

Bo, the son of a revolutionary veteran, was once a contender for one of those top jobs. But his overt maneuvering to reach the highest echelons of the Communist Party angered some leaders, as did his bombastic campaigns to bust organized crime and promote communist culture while trampling civil liberties and reviving memories of the chaotic Cultural Revolution.

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 Assiocated press contributed to this report.

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