Gu Kailai: Getting Away with Murder?

Closer Look: Nearly Getting Away with Murder

By Zhang Jianjing

Shortly after Bogu Kailai received a death sentence with a two-year reprieve, four former high-ranking Chongqing police officers were sentenced to jail terms ranging from five to eleven years. Each officer was convicted on charges related to the covered-up murder of British businessman Neil Heywood.

While the gravity of the cover-up does not compare to the actual murder for which Bogu was convicted, what these ex-officers did while serving in uniform undermined the integrity of the law enforcement system.

According to the Xinhua News Agency, Bogu executed her plan in a calm manner. Sending someone to pick up Heywood from Beijing, reserving a hotel room, and then sharing drinks with him—all of these steps were arranged by Bogu without any attempt to cover her steps.

If not for a surprise visit by former Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun to the U.S. consulate in Chengdu, Bogu would never have been tied to Heywood and his death.

Where did this supreme sense of impunity come from? On this issue, the actions of the four, former police officers during the murder investigation were quite illuminating.

The Xinhua report that quoted the indictment against the officers stated, “After Heywood was found dead, Guo Weiguo, then-vice police chief of Chongqing municipality, who had close ties with the Bo family, was assigned to the case by the then-police chief and vice-mayor, Wang Lijun. Guo arranged for three, high-ranking police officers with whom he had close ties to accompany him to the scene.”

This element of “close ties” is mentioned twice. In a cocoon of cronyism, Bogu’s sense of safety and immunity from criminal prosecution stemmed from the fact that she could rely on these officers more than they could rely on her.

From the perspective of cultivating and supporting healthy institutions, this is precisely the Heywood case-related matter that requires the most attention. As Bogu had apparently expected, these officers were willing to forge affidavits, hide evidence, and convince Heywood’s family that they should not seek criminal charges.

The court ruled that Guo and the others “bent the law for personal benefit and facilitated the cover-up of Bogu Kailai’s murderous actions, whose criminal responsibility was not accounted for and created extremely negative consequences for society.”

The official ruling also found that Guo was the primary actor in the cover-up. The other officers did not destroy key evidence, as ordered by Guo, which was later used in unraveling details of the murder.

The “key evidence” and “related evidence” they preserved was eventually used by the prosecution in the Bogu trial. This included blood taken from Neil Heywood’s heart after his death and vomit samples found at the scene, which were collected and preserved by the Chongqing Public Security Bureau.

These men, who should have upheld the law in their roles as law enforcement officers, were willing to eviscerate the public’s faith in the law. And yet their crimes were mitigated in a sense by Bogu’s political influence.

When public power becomes a tradable commodity exchanged among a group of people with “close ties,” the nature of power and the law degenerates into a tool of the political elite. The case of the four former police officers teaches us that it is imperative to promote rule of law reform. This is the only path forward for long-term peace and stability.

Zhang Jianjing is the managing editor of China Reform.

The Bogu Kailai Case: Underwritten by Privilege

By Hu Shuli

A review of Xinhua News Agency’s account of the Bogu Kailai and Zhang Xiaojun murder trial contained a trove of fresh information including criminal charges, evidence, expert opinions, and the circumstances surrounding British businessman Neil Heywood’s death.

When the investigation into Heywood’s death was first announced on April 10 by Xinhua, the official report said: “China is a socialist country run by the rule of law. The dignity and power of law shall not be trampled.”

After reading the report of the recent court proceedings, people realized the use of the word “trampled” was pretty accurate.

Just think: From the moment when Bogu planned the murder until the Chongqing police were able to cover up the crime, she was never concerned, never panicked, because she believed she would enjoy total impunity for the crime. If it weren’t for Wang Lijun’s stay at the U.S. consulate, there would not have been any public information about it and no justice for the dead. The criminal would still be at large, holding an untarnished reputation as a high-powered lawyer and spouse of a senior official.

Bogu is a lawyer. With an expert understanding of the law, she was aware of the offenses that she planned to commit. According to official reports, during the 2010 National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, Bo Xilai praised his wife as “one of China’s first generation of lawyers.” He went on to say that she was “not only well-versed in legal matters, but possessed a wealth of knowledge about cultures around the world. Her knowledge, especially her legal background, was very helpful in the efforts to crack down on organized crime.”

She certainly would have been aware of the serious consequences of taking someone’s life, let alone someone of a foreign nationality in which there would be international ramifications. Her brazen sense of immunity from the law was supported by a network of high-level officials in the Chongqing Ministry of Public Security.

When Heywood was found dead in the hotel, Wang, then-vice mayor and head of the Chongqing police, appointed his deputy in the public security bureau, Guo Weiguo, to handle the case. Guo was close to the Bo family, according to the Xinhua report. When Guo and his colleagues found Bogu was the leading suspect, they chose to not pursue the case, but to cover up for her—faking written testimony, hiding evidence, persuading Heywood’s family to accept the conclusion that he died of an alcohol-triggered heart attack, and cremating the body without an autopsy.

Guo and other policemen involved the cover-up look more like Bo’s personal flunkeys rather than public law enforcement officers. They were high in official ranking—bureau chief, deputy chief, and leader of the investigation team. What was the nature of the connections linking these individuals to the Bo family and how did this facilitate their motivation in the cover-up?

All this happened in Chongqing, where a campaign against the local mafia was touted as a major achievement in governance. It also happened in China, a country in which the constitution upholds the rule of law. What Bogu and her associates have proved is that they were the strongest criminal gang.

At the trial, Bogu tried to emphasize that the motivation behind her crime was to protect her son. But these aren’t exculpatory circumstances, nor is there enough evidence to prove her claim.

If the dispute between Bogu and Heywood was economic in nature, they could have used economic channels or a civil lawsuit to resolve it. The fact that Heywood was willing to meet Bogu by himself and drink tea and liquor with her indicates that Heywood was not on the verge of murdering her son. The dispute had not reached that level. It is obvious that her argument does not add up. In fact, last November as the case was unfolding, Bogu’s son was in the United States studying at Harvard University.

The facts about the disagreement between Bogu and Heywood are hard to come by, but what is known does not excuse her for her crime. The story spun about a mother sacrificing herself for her own can hardly deceive anyone.

The court proceedings report also raised other suspicions. First it states, “Bogu Kailai, formerly known as Gu Kailai, has a Beijing residential registration card.” The addition of her husband’s surname has many wondering what her true citizenship is. Secondly, according to the report, “Heywood disagreed with Bo Guagua about the amount of his payment and threatened to harm him.” The large amounts of money involved bring up the question of corruption. Third, five police officials are suspected of involvement in the case, however, they will be “dealt with separately.” Who are the others involved? Is Bo among them? An editorial in the People’s Daily on April 11 stated that “no one should be allowed to interfere with the implementation of justice,” which lends itself to a variety of interpretations.

China is a socialist country under the rule of law, whose “unity, dignity and authority must be protected,” President Hu Jintao said in a speech on July 23. No one is special in the eyes of the law. No criminal is beyond the authority of the law. Even though her power and position were great, Bogu is no exception.

Within three months of the announcement of the murder case, the Ministry of Public Security began collecting clues and building an investigation that reexamined the facts. Once Bogu was implicated, Zhang, an orderly in the family’s home, was quickly arrested. During the trial on August 10, the indictment read that their acts had violated Article 232 of the People’s Republic of China Criminal Law Code. It said Bogu was the criminal and Zhang the accomplice.

These developments well serve as a concluding chapter to a murder case that offers a starting point to examine recent events that could shape China’s history.

Hu Shuli is the editor-in-chief of Caixin Media.

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