The trial of a charismatic former Chinese Communist Party leader took a dramatic turn today as testimony given during the case threw light on the circumstances behind the murder of a British businessman in the country in November 2011.
The former senior politician Bo Xilai, mounting an unexpectedly fierce defence during the second day of his corruption trial, dismissed testimony from his wife, Gu Kailai, arguing that she was coerced into testifying against him.
In videotaped testimony and written submissions to the court, Gu, who was last year jailed for Mr Heywood’s murder, said she felt the Briton was a threat to her son’s personal safety.
She went on to claim that her son, Bo Guagua, had called her to say that Mr Heywood had threatened him.
“After the video call I was very worried which led to the 15 November crime [when Neil Heywood was killed],” she said.
The testimony from Bo’s wife was presented by the prosecution in order to bolster bribery allegations against him. Elswhere in the testimony, she says businessmen gave their family gifts including a French villa, airline tickets and a Segway scooter.
Bo is also accused of interfering with the investigation into Heywood’s death.
Before the video testimony was played in Jinan Intermediate People’s Court on Friday, Bo questioned his wife’s credibility and mental health while fiercely denying that he took £2.2m in bribes from two businessmen.
One of the businessmen, Xu Ming, an entrepreneur from Dalian – the north eastern port city where Bo was formerly Mayor, is accused of giving the family some of the extravagant gifts.
In the video, posted on the court’s blog, Gu says Xu, did many favours for the family in exchange for her husband’s help. Xu gave them a villa in Nice, often paid for their international air travel and gave them gifts including expensive seafood, said Gu. She claimed on the video that Bo had been aware of the gifts.
“Xu Ming is our old and longtime friend,” Gu is seen telling her questioner, who identified herself as someone from the Supreme People's Procuratorate, the country's top prosecutor's office.
“We had a very good impression of him and believed he was honest and kind, so we trusted him a lot.”
Chinese state media have said that Gu killed My Heywood because of differences over a business deal. Written testimony to the court from Patrick Devillers, a French architect, suggested that there had indeed been a conflict between Gu and Heywood over a financial deal relating to the French Villa.
Many analysts within China and abroad see Bo’s trial as an attempt by the Communist Party to show that it's serious about tackling widespread corruption among the country’s governing elite. The charges against Bo Xilai include those of bribery, corruption and abuse of power. The trial is set to continue for a third day on Saturday, according to the state Xinhua news agency.