China says Gu Kailai didn't contest murder charge
Gu Kailai, wife of a Chinese politician at the centre of a major scandal, did not deny murdering a British man during her one-day trial that ended Thursday with no verdict, a court official said.
The closely-watched trial is the latest stage in a scandal that has brought down Gu's husband Bo Xilai and exposed deep divisions among China's leaders ahead of a generational handover of power that starts later this year.
Prosecutors said Gu fed poison to 41-year-old British businessman Neil Heywood after going to drink with him in the hotel room where he was found dead last November, court official Tang Yigan told journalists after the trial in the eastern city of Hefei.
Gu's government-appointed lawyer did not challenge the claim, telling the court she "was responsible", but that her cooperation during the investigation should be taken into account.
In a sign of the huge sensitivity of the case, no foreign media were allowed into the Hefei court, although two British diplomats attended, in a rare concession. Tang said some of Heywood's friends and family were also there.
Scores of uniformed and plain-clothes police were stationed outside the court, where a female protester was seen being dragged away and thrown into a police vehicle as the hearing got under way.
Gu's trial has drawn comparisons with that of Chinese leader Mao Zedong's widow Jiang Qing, who along with the three other members of the "Gang of Four" was convicted for fomenting the tumultuous Cultural Revolution.
Jiang was sentenced to death but this was later commuted to life in prison, as is often the case for high-profile defendants in China.
A lawyer acting for co-accused Zhang Xiaojun, an aide to the Bo family, also did not raise any objection to the charge during the brief hearing in the Hefei Intermediate Court, said Tang.
Zhang is accused of having carried the poison when Gu went to visit Heywood on November 13 in his hotel room in the southwestern city of Chongqing, said the court official, reading from a prepared script.
"The People's Prosecutorate of Hefei city deems that there are clear crime facts and irrefutable and substantial evidence showing that defendants Gu Kailai and Zhang Xiaojun committed murder by poisoning," he said.
"Gu Kailai is the prime offender and Zhang Xiaojun is an accomplice."
Gu, a former international lawyer, saw her life of wealth and privilege end abruptly when she was accused earlier this year of poisoning Heywood.
The scandal ended the political career of her husband Bo, a high-flying but divisive Communist official known for his aggressive crackdown on organised crime and for a Maoist-style "red revival" campaign that alienated party moderates.
None of China's main state-run newspapers covered the trial on Thursday and posts on the country's popular microblogging sites -- many of them complaining about the lack of transparency surrounding the trial -- were rapidly deleted.
The official Xinhua news agency reported the trial only once it was over.
Internet searches for the names of Gu and Bo have been blocked for months under China's rigorous online censorship system.
Some analysts believe that Gu will bear the harsher consequences while Bo, who has been placed under investigation for corruption, will be dealt with more lightly or after the leadership transition this autumn.
"They are really focusing on getting Gu Kailai to pay," said Steve Tsang, a professor and director of the China Policy Institute at the University of Nottingham.
"My bet is that Bo will get off relatively lightly and they are going to park Bo Xilai's case until after the succession, the party Congress."
State news agency Xinhua has said Gu had "economic conflicts" with Heywood and feared for the safety of her son Bo Guagua, 24, who is believed to be in the United States where he recently completed a master's degree.
The younger Bo told CNN this week he had submitted a witness statement to his mother's defence team, and that he believes the "facts will speak for themselves" in the case.
Though Gu faces possible execution, legal experts say she is likely to be given a commuted death sentence that translates into 10 to 15 years in prison, with her concern for her son's safety providing a mitigating circumstance.