Fallen Chinese Official, at His Trial, Faces Accuser Who Set Scandal in Motion

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JINAN, China -- In a dramatic high point of his trial, Bo Xilai, the fallen Communist Party star, faced off in court on Saturday with Wang Lijun, the former police chief whose flight to an American consulate last year set off the biggest scandal to shake the party in decades.

It was the first time the two were known to have seen each other since February 2012, when Mr. Wang fled the southwest metropolis of Chongqing, which Mr. Bo governed for four years, for the nearby consulate. There, Mr. Wang told American officials that Mr. Bo's wife had poisoned a British businessman, Neil Heywood, and that Mr. Bo was persecuting Mr. Wang because he knew about the murder.

Mr. Bo stands charged with abusing his power through moves to suppress exposure of the Heywood murder, including demoting Mr. Wang. In his testimony on Saturday, Mr. Bo took blame, to a degree, for the episode leading to Mr. Wang's flight.

"I made mistakes; I am very ashamed and I am willing to take appropriate responsibility, but whether it's a crime or not a crime is another matter," Mr. Bo testified. He added that he had not bent the law to protect his wife, because he did not believe that she had killed Mr. Heywood, and that he demoted Mr. Wang right before he fled for the consulate because he believed that Mr. Wang was unstable.

Mr. Wang, who is serving a 15-year prison sentence for defection and other crimes, took the witness stand on Saturday for the prosecution. In glasses, a white shirt and neatly parted hair, he looked much as he did when he served as Mr. Bo's enforcer. Mr. Wang testified that Mr. Bo's wife, Gu Kailai, secretly confessed to him on Nov. 14, 2011, that she had just poisoned Mr. Heywood. Mr. Wang was close to Ms. Gu and kept this a secret, but in late January 2012, he said, he told Mr. Bo that his wife had poisoned Mr. Heywood.

At a meeting the next day, he said, Mr. Bo bawled him out in front of other officials and punched him in the face. "My body was shaking a bit," Mr. Wang said. "I discovered that the corner of my mouth was bleeding. Fluid was coming from my ears."

In his testimony, Mr. Bo said he had slapped Mr. Wang for what he thought were fabricated accusations against his wife. "I couldn't accept this, I was furious, I smashed a mug to the ground," Mr. Bo said.

Besides the abuse of power charge, Mr. Bo is charged with taking bribes and embezzling amounts totaling $4.4 million. The abuse of power charge is the last one to be addressed in the trial, which began Thursday and is expected to run at least through Sunday. Mr. Bo has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Mr. Bo, a populist politician and the son of a Communist revolutionary leader, was dismissed from his post in March 2012. Soon afterward, the murder allegations became public. Ms. Gu was convicted of murder a year ago and given a suspended death sentence, essentially life in prison.

On Saturday, lurid Bo family secrets were laid bare to millions of fascinated Chinese who have been following the trial on a running court microblog that party officials set up in an effort to give the trial an air of legitimacy.

Earlier in the day, the defendant rejected accusations of embezzlement after a former colleague testified that Mr. Bo had arranged for Ms. Gu to accept $820,000 of government money earmarked for a secret construction project in the early 2000s. Mr. Bo said that after his wife found out about an extramarital affair of his, she left for Britain with their son, Bo Guagua, and lived mainly there from 2000 to 2007, while their son was in school. Mr. Bo said Ms. Gu, a lawyer, had saved a lot of money -- $3.3 million to $5 million in cash and assets -- and his son had scholarships for his schooling, so he had no need to steal government money.

Mr. Bo's admission of adultery was immediately seized on by Chinese Web portals, one of which posted the headline "Bo Xilai Admits in Court Having Had an Affair, Wife Took Son off to England in a Rage."

It was an example of how China's major state-approved news portals were presenting a unified voice to highlight the prosecution's evidence against Mr. Bo or, as in the case of the affair, to taint him with scandal.

Last September, when the Communist Party announced its findings against Mr. Bo, it decided to include the accusation of adultery, saying he "had or maintained improper sexual relationships with a number of women." A Bo family associate said Saturday that Mr. Bo and Ms. Gu both had had affairs going back before 2000.

The associate and another person close to the Bo family who has been briefed on the trial proceedings said some of Mr. Bo's strongest assertions in court had been kept from the transcripts released on the court microblog. On Thursday, they said, Mr. Bo told the court that he had made one bribery confession last year to investigators only after being warned that his wife could be given the death sentence and his son, who had just graduated from Harvard, brought back to China to face charges.

"I felt like there were two other lives tethered to mine," Mr. Bo told the court, using a Chinese proverb.

Another detail left out of the transcripts on Friday also involved the pressure Mr. Bo said investigators had put on him, the two family associates said. They said he had testified that he had been interrogated hundreds of times and fainted 27 times.

In court on Saturday, Mr. Wang testified that Mr. Bo had assaulted and then demoted him to cover up the murder. But Mr. Bo said there was no cover-up attempt because he never believed that a murder had occurred -- he asked Ms. Gu about the allegation, but she convinced him that Mr. Wang was trying to frame her. As proof, she presented Mr. Heywood's death certificate, signed by Mr. Heywood's wife, which said he had died of a heart attack after heavy drinking.

"In my impression, Gu Kailai was a gentle and feeble woman; she couldn't possibly kill someone," Mr. Bo said.

Mr. Bo was seemingly afforded more room to speak on Saturday and mounted a feistier defense than he did a day earlier, according to one of the Bo family associates. He said officials had placed stricter courtroom limitations on Mr. Bo on Friday after his spirited defense on opening day, and tightened the information released on the microblog.

Chinese news media coverage of the courtroom drama on Saturday left no question that party authorities remained determined to dispense with Mr. Bo, who is expected to be sentenced to a long prison term. For three days now, no audio or video clips have been released in which Mr. Bo can be heard speaking. His statements are presented only via the transcripts.

An article on Saturday in The Legal Daily, an official newspaper under the guidance of the party's political and legal affairs committee, concluded that the testimony on the embezzlement charges "proves deliberate corruption on his part."

Patrick Zuo contributed research.

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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