China's rulers seek to close ranks over Neil Heywood death

Looming murder trial of key Communist party figure's wife exposes ominous rift in leadership

Hong Kong

Pressure is mounting on rival factions in the Chinese Communist Party to unite over the outcome of the Gu Kailai trial to ensure its once-in-a-decade leadership change later this year is not derailed.

Ms Gu, 52, the wife of the disgraced former Politburo member Bo Xilai, could face trial as early as next Tuesday over the poisoning of the British businessman Neil Heywood, who died in Chongqing in central China last November.

The case has exposed ideological cracks within senior ranks and the party is desperate to paper them over before the next generation of leaders takes over at the 18th congress in autumn. The most significant hurdle to a smooth handover will be how the rival factions respond to the outcome of Ms Gu's trial, which has been assigned to Hefei, in the eastern province of Anhui, far from her husband's power base.

Ms Gu was only arrested in April and charged last week. However, as a lawyer, she is aware of how quickly the Chinese legal system can operate. After winning a landmark case in the USA for a Chinese company in 1998, she tried to capitalise on her new-found fame by writing a book praising her country's legal system.

"As long as it is known that you, John Doe, killed someone, you will be arrested, tried and shot to death," Ms Gu wrote – words that are now surely coming back to haunt her.

When the state news agency Xinhua announced the charges against her, it said the facts of the "crime are clear, and the evidence is irrefutable and substantial". The statement left little doubt about the outcome of the trial, but all eyes will be on the punishment, which could range from three years in jail up to the death penalty.

Zhang Lifan, a political analyst formerly with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the Communist Party was locked in a desperate struggle over its future direction, but would try and unite behind Ms Gu's case to "create a favourable and harmonious atmosphere" before the handover.

"The decision [to try Ms Gu quickly] suggests the leadership is eager to put an end to the political scandal as soon as possible," Mr Zhang told the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong. "They are hoping to move beyond a scandal that has exposed a leadership split and threatens to lay bare corruption in the party's highest ranks."

Ms Gu's husband was a powerful figure among the party's leftist factions and was widely tipped to be elevated to the Politburo's all-powerful Standing Committee before his family was swept up in the scandal surrounding Mr Heywood's death. Mr Bo, 63, has not been charged over the death but was suspended from the party. He was accused of "serious discipline violations'' and has not been heard from since.

He still has strong allies among like-minded ideologues in the party's senior leadership. The case has disrupted their momentum against current president, Hu Jintao, and the more moderate Prime Minister, Wen Jiabao, but if they feel Ms Gu is being punished excessively, they could fight back.

The wording of the official announcement of the charges was widely seen as giving the court room to manoeuvre in its sentencing of Ms Gu.

"Worrying about Neil Heywood's threat to her son's personal security, Bogu Kailai… poisoned Neil Heywood to death," the statement said, using Ms Gu's married name. References to her son Bo Guagua's "conflicts" with Mr Heywood "over economic interests" provide mitigating circumstances that could be used to reduce any sentence.

Authorities originally ruled that Mr Heywood, 41, who had business dealings with Ms Gu and Mr Bo, had died of excessive drinking. The case unravelled when Chongqing's former police chief Wang Lijun sought asylum in the US consulate in Chengdu and revealed evidence that was eventually used to bring down his old boss and Mrs Gu. The family housekeeper, Zhang Xiaojun, has also been charged with intentional homicide over the incident.

Suggested Topics
Sport
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo
football

Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

Voices
voicesApple continually kill off smaller app developers, and that's no good for anyone
Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
voicesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping the First Minister up at night?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear
tv

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

Life and Style
life

News
ScienceGallery: Otherwise known as 'the best damn photos of space you'll see till 2015'
Travel
travelWhy Japan's love hotels are thriving through an economic downturn
Life and Style
fashion

Bomber jacket worn by Mary Berry sells out within an hour

Life and Style
Alexander McQueen A/W 2014
fashionPolitics aside, tartan is on-trend again this season
Arts and Entertainment
Rapper Jay Z performs on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury in 2008
musicSinger sued over use of the single-syllable sample in 'Run This Town'
Sport
Joel jumps over the board...and into a giant hole
footballFrom joy to despair in a matter of seconds
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC
tv

Much-loved cartoon character returns - without Sir David Jason

Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me
tv

Actress to appear in second series of the hugely popular crime drama

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Volunteer your expertise as Trustee for The Society of Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Promising volunteer Trustee op...

Email Designer

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Psychology Teacher

£110 - £130 per hour: Randstad Education Reading: Psychology Teacher needed fo...

Food Technology Teacher

£85 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Randstad Education are curren...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week