Thursday, August 09, 2012

Truth behind Heywood murder brushed under the rug

When Gu Kailai finally appeared in a Chinese court accused of murdering British businessman, there was a strong expectation amongst some that the whole truth and circumstances surrounding his death would emerge.

However, few details were revealed other than the wife of former top-communist party official Bo Xilai admitting poisoning the Englishman with the help of her 33-year-old family servant Zhang Xiaojun, who was also on trial.

Prosecutors claim Gu Kailai masterminded the murder of 41-year-old Neil Heywood after he threatened the "physical safety" of her 24-year-old son, Bo Guagua. According to the account offered to the court, Gu had "used brutal means" to murder the British businessman, luring him to a hotel room before dispatching him with poison. The three are said to have drank tea and alcohol in room 1605 of Chongqing's Lucky Holiday Hotel before Gu and her servant "poured [poison] into Heywood's mouth".

"When Heywood was drunk and vomited and wanted to drink water, she then took pre-prepared poison that she had asked Zhang Xiaojun to carry and poured it into Heywood's mouth, killing him," the court statement said.

Few members of the public were allowed to attend the proceedings, and media was restricted to Chinese reporters. After the seven hour hearing a few of those that had attended spoke to the foreign media outside and confirmed many people's fears that details about Bo Xilai and Gu Kailai's flamboyant lifestyle and corruption would be glossed over. "It was just about murder, no economic or corruption issues were raised," a student who refused to give her name told the Daily Telegraph.

Speaking before the trial Steve Tsang, the director of the University of Nottingham's China Policy Institute, said the true story about Neil Heywood's murder and Bo Xilai's dramatic downfall was never likely to emerge. "There is no way we are going to find out what actually happened," he said.

As for Gu, she seems resigned to whatever the court metes out as punishment. "I committed a crime that brought negative consequences to the party and the country," Gu said, according to one witness who attended the proceedings. "I am willing to receive any punishment." [Washington Post] Possible sentences range from 10 years in prison to the death penalty.

The trial was not so much China's "trial of the century" than a damp squib, with weather to match [Washington Post].

The Financial Times had billed the trial most anticipated in China since the Gang of Four took the stand three decades ago. That was very much a show trial of confessions. Gu's appearance was less of a show trial. In fact many people in China will know little if any of the facts surrounding the case [Financial Times].

State media have only given a partial summary of the case [Guardian] and users of China's main Twitter-like service, Sina Weibo, reported difficulties posting messages during the controversial murder trial [BBC / Channel 4 News]

tvnewswatch, London, UK

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