CHENGDU, China (AP) — A once-prominent police chief at the center of a divisive political scandal stood trial for a second day Tuesday as Chinese leaders moved closer to resolving a case that has complicated their transfer of power to new leaders.
The Intermediate Court in the central city of Chengdu resumed the hearing for Wang Lijun focusing on corruption and other charges, and was expected to end the trial later Tuesday. The proceedings unexpectedly opened a day early Monday with an unannounced closed-door hearing that Wang's lawyer said involved state secrets and explored charges of defecting and abuse of power — allegations related to his surprise visit to the U.S. consulate in Chengdu in February that triggered the scandal.
Police stationed around the courthouse pulled tape across the entrance and blocked and rerouted traffic, in part to deter spectators or people with grievances against the government or Wang. Police led away a couple and an older man who tried to speak with foreign reporters, who were restricted to a sidewalk across from the court entrance. Unidentified men filmed the reporters.
The trial was the latest wrinkle in the bizarre months-long scandal that started with Wang's flight to the consulate, where he divulged that a British businessman found dead in November had been murdered. In the fallout, Wang's boss, senior politician Bo Xilai, was ousted from the communist leadership, Bo's wife confessed to the murder and the Communist Party leadership had to manage the damage while trying to negotiate a delicate power handover to a younger generation.
Wang's trial clears the way for the leadership to deal with the scandal's stickiest issue: whether to expel Bo from the party and prosecute him. Proof that the damage-control continues to vex Chinese leaders is that they have yet to announce a date for a party congress to install the new leadership, though it is expected in mid- to late October.
By using a closed-door hearing, authorities could limit leaks about Bo's involvement in the cover-up of the murder of the British businessman Neil Heywood, an associate of the Bo family, and about any outbursts by Wang.
"Wang Lijun, by walking into the U.S. consulate, showed that he does not play by the book. It was a surprise move to Bo and to the party. He might not be as easy to control," said Dali Yang, director of the University of Chicago Center in Beijing.
Wang's almost certain conviction marks the downfall of a prominent, colorful police chief who often skirted the law he made a show of enforcing.
A policeman for more than two decades, Wang made a name for himself as a gang-buster in a northeastern province. There he met Bo, then a fast-rising politician who, as the son of a revolutionary veteran, had a web of political contacts. The two rode to national fame together, launching a high-profile sweep against organized crime in Chongqing, an inland megacity where Bo was named party chief in 2007.
In magazine cover stories and on television news, Wang was depicted as someone willing to tackle vested interests. Hundreds of gangsters, police and officials were prosecuted, and among the 13 people executed was the head of the city's justice bureau. Behind the headlines, the use of torture to extract confessions and arrests to pressure businessmen to steer deals toward Bo and his allies created enemies at the highest levels.
His excesses likely would have not gotten him into trouble had he not embarrassed the ruling elite by going to the U.S. consulate in Chengdu, near Chongqing, and divulging information the party would prefer be handled in secret. Why Wang fled is still not known, though he had recently been sidelined by Bo in a sign of strained relations between them.
U.S. officials have refused to say if Wang asked for asylum during his 33-hour stay in the consulate but diplomats explained to him that U.S. policy excludes granting asylum in diplomatic missions. In a report on his indictment, the official Xinhua News Agency said that Wang knew Bo's wife, Gu Kailai, was suspected in the murder of Heywood over a business dispute, but that he ignored the law and his duty to cover up for her.
At a trial last month, Gu confessed and received a suspended death sentence, usually commuted to life in prison. Prosecutors portrayed Wang as an accomplice, having been consulted by Gu before and after the murder, according to a lawyer who attended the trial. The lawyer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Wang recorded the conversations used as evidence against Gu.
Wang's trial is expected to be quick; the charges against the youthful looking 52-year-old each carry 10-year maximums, though the law provides for lengthier sentences for egregious violations.
In history "until relatively recently, he who lived by the sword often perished by the sword. Wang Lijun is facing an outcome along that line," said Steve Tsang, director of the China Policy Institute at the University of Nottingham in Britain. "He, being somebody who has a long record of not delivering justice while in a position requiring him to do so, to end up facing the same fate, I would call it 'poetic injustice'."
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