Fallen Official's Defense: He Was Obeying Orders

Share with others:


Print Email Read Later

BEIJING -- Bo Xilai, the fallen Communist Party official, said in secret testimony during his recent trial that he was obeying orders from a powerful party agency in charge of security when he took steps to cover up the flight of his police chief to an American Consulate, according to a court observer's written record of trial statements.

Mr. Bo, once the party chief overseeing the southwestern metropolis of Chongqing, said the orders instructed him to say publicly that the Chongqing police chief, Wang Lijun, had fled for health reasons, when the true reasons were connected to the murder of a British businessman, which only a handful of people knew about at that point.

It was perhaps the only time in the trial when Mr. Bo said senior party officials were responsible for actions he took during the unfolding scandal. Party leaders appear to have set strict limits on what could be said during the trial in Jinan, which was closed to the public, and released only vetted transcripts via an official court microblog.

Most of Mr. Bo's testimony concerned his family life. But in the secret testimony, he discussed orders from above to rebut the prosecutors' accusation that he had abused his power by creating a fake medical record to make Mr. Wang look unstable. He is also charged with embezzlement and taking bribes.

Mr. Bo's assertion echoed earlier interviews with party insiders, who said powerful officials moved quickly after the consulate crisis in February 2012 in deciding whether to cover for Mr. Bo. Certain major decisions centered on how to present Mr. Wang's mental state to the outside world.

Mr. Bo's argument that he was obeying orders was detailed in one of two documents written by a court observer that were obtained Thursday by The New York Times. It is perhaps the most explosive element to have emerged in the courtroom because Mr. Bo was linking central party officials to the abuse of power charge. The party has tried to isolate the murder scandal that brought down Mr. Bo last year by keeping from the public any hint of party leaders' direct involvement in the events or power struggles among themselves.

The party agency that Mr. Bo said had issued the cover-up order, the Central Politics and Law Commission, was led for most of last year by Zhou Yongkang, an ally of Mr. Bo who was on the Politburo Standing Committee, which rules China. Party insiders say that Mr. Zhou was maneuvering in early 2012 to protect Mr. Bo, his potential successor, and that he was later weakened by Mr. Bo's fall.

In recent weeks, people in Chinese political circles have discussed the extent to which the party is investigating Mr. Zhou's associates for evidence of financial corruption.

When Mr. Wang fled to the consulate, he told diplomats he believed that Mr. Bo's wife, Gu Kailai, had months earlier murdered Neil Heywood, the Briton, and that Mr. Wang now feared retribution from Mr. Bo. After leaving the consulate, Mr. Wang flew to Beijing in the custody of central security officials.

Then two mysterious things appeared on the Internet: one was a certificate from a Chongqing hospital that said Mr. Wang had earlier been given a diagnosis of "severe depression"; another was a post on an official Chongqing microblog that said Mr. Wang was undergoing "vacation-style medical treatment."

During the five-day trial, which ended Monday, prosecutors said Mr. Bo, 64, had abused his power by ordering the dissemination of the fake medical certificate and telling Chongqing officials to write the microblog post. And days before Mr. Wang's flight, they said, Mr. Bo violated party rules by unilaterally removing Mr. Wang as police chief. That happened after Mr. Bo had punched or slapped Mr. Wang, whom Mr. Bo said not only confronted him with news of the murder, but also desired his wife.

Ms. Gu was convicted of Mr. Heywood's murder a year ago and given a suspended death sentence, essentially life in prison. Prosecutors said she had also suggested to Mr. Bo the idea of issuing a fake certificate.

But in his secret testimony, Mr. Bo said that he had received a "six-point guidance" from the Central Politics and Law Commission in dealing with the Wang case and that one point told him to "use health reasons in the name of humanitarianism" in explaining Mr. Wang's disappearance. The guidance would presumably have been approved by Mr. Zhou.

Mr. Bo's argument was laid out in one section of a document written from memory by a court observer and including remarks that officials are keeping secret. The first document obtained by The Times was a fuller version of Mr. Bo's final statement.

A person briefed on the trial confirmed that both documents had been written by someone inside the court.

One version of the prosecution's closing statement posted online Monday did make an oblique reference to the "six-point guidance," but censors quickly excised that section. (The earlier transcript still appears on Sina.com, a popular Web news portal.)

In interviews, party insiders said last year that Mr. Bo had tried to persuade powerful associates in Beijing to seize on Mr. Wang's mental health as a way of helping Mr. Bo quash the emerging murder scandal. The issue presented them with a test of their competing party loyalties.

After Mr. Wang was taken to Beijing, the party's General Office, which was run by Ling Jihua, a top aide to Hu Jintao, then the party leader and China's president, secretly ordered a psychiatric examination of Mr. Wang at a military hospital in the capital. It determined that Mr. Wang suffered from intermittent psychiatric problems, according to party insiders briefed on the episode. Wider knowledge of that would have cast some doubt on Mr. Wang's murder account and other accusations.

"This exam could have been used to exonerate Bo Xilai," one of the insiders said.

When he learned of the exam results, the insiders said, Mr. Bo asked Gen. Liu Yuan, a military ally who oversaw the Beijing hospital, to help leak the results, but he refused. Mr. Ling kept the results quiet as well. If they had chosen differently, Mr. Wang might have been discredited, and Mr. Bo could still be in power, some of the insiders said.

A verdict for Mr. Bo, most likely predetermined by party leaders, is expected in early September.

Mia Li contributed research.

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

You have 2 remaining free articles this month

Try unlimited digital access

If you are an existing subscriber,
link your account for free access. Start here

You’ve reached the limit of free articles this month.

To continue unlimited reading

If you are an existing subscriber,
link your account for free access. Start here