Murder trial of Bo Xilai's wife likely quick

In this Jan. 17, 2007 file photo, former Chongqing Communist Party Secretary Bo Xilai, right, accompanied by his wife Gu Kailai, attends a funeral for his father in Beijing.
AP Photo/Kyodo News/China Foto Press

(AP) BEIJING - Gu Kailai's day in court will likely be soon — and short.

Now that the wife of disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai has been indicted for murder, Chinese authorities are expected to proceed quickly on orders of a leadership keen to move past a huge scandal that has complicated its once-a-decade political transition.

Gu's legal proceedings could be under way in as little as 10 days, with an outcome likely to remove her from the public eye, at least, and that could even result in her execution.

Her indictment was announced Thursday. She and a family aide were charged with murdering British businessman Neil Heywood, with whom the Bo family had close ties, the official Xinhua News Agency said in a brief report.

Given the high stakes the case has for the leadership, the announcement of the indictment likely means that leaders already have reached a behind-the-scenes agreement on the verdict.

"For a case that's this high profile, the state has a very clear idea of how they want it to come out," said Carl Minzer, a China law and governance expert at the Fordham Law School, who is currently in Beijing.

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China's judiciary is not independent, and politically tricky cases are usually decided with input from Communist Party officials. The public and media are often kept out of the courts, especially for any sort of politically sensitive trial, and lawyers representing human rights activists and others who have upset the government often complain that basic defense rights are ignored.

A key question remains: What is to become of Bo, who remains under a separate, party investigation for unspecified wrongdoings? The leadership has given no clear signals.

Bo was a political high-flier who fell from power after his former police chief fled to a U.S. consulate and divulged suspicions that Gu was involved in Heywood's death. Three months ago, the government announced that Gu and Zhang Xiaojun, the family aide, were being investigated and that Bo was being suspended from the powerful Politburo for discipline violations that were not detailed.

The scandal exposed divisions in the leadership and affirmed an already skeptical public's dim view about corrupt dealings in the party. Ahead of a political transition expected in the fall, bringing Gu's case to a swift legal resolution will help remove a distraction.

If found guilty of intentional homicide, which appears likely, Gu and Zhang face punishment ranging from more than 10 years' imprisonment to life in jail or the death penalty.

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While the court verdict may be a foregone conclusion, Cheng Li, an elite politics expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington, said that with all the attention the case has drawn, the leadership is taking pains to show the prosecution is adhering to the law: "All indications are that the case will be presented in a legally well-grounded manner."

An editorial in the state-run Global Times newspaper Friday said that the trial was a chance to show that all are equal before the law.

"The law should be the sole principle followed by the trial. No matter what impact the ruling will have, judges must be loyal to the law. This is a test of their commitment to the rule of law," the newspaper said.