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Guilt First, Trial Later: Murder Charge For Chinese Politician's Wife

Gu Kailai, left, and her husband, Bo Xilai, in 2007. She's been charged with murder.
Reuters /Landov
Gu Kailai, left, and her husband, Bo Xilai, in 2007. She's been charged with murder.

China's Xinhua news agency ends its report this morning on the murder case against a prominent politician's wife with this remarkable passage:

"Investigation results show that Bogu Kailai, one of the defendants, and her son surnamed Bo had conflicts with the British citizen Neil Heywood over economic interests. Worrying about Neil Heywood's threat to her son's personal security, Bogu Kailai along with Zhang Xiaojun, the other defendant, poisoned Neil Heywood to death.

"The facts of the two defendants' crime are clear, and the evidence is irrefutable and substantial. Therefore, the two defendants should be charged with intentional homicide. The Hefei Intermediate People's Court has received the case according to law, and will hold a trial on a day to be decided."

So, presumed guilty first; trial later.

If you're just catching up on this story, as The Associated Press writes, "the wife of ousted Chinese politician Bo Xilai and a family aide have been charged with the [November 2011] murder of a British businessman, the government said Thursday, pushing ahead a case at the center of a messy political scandal that exposed divisions in China's leadership."

The New York Times reminds readers that "authorities in Chongqing originally attributed Mr. Heywood's death to excessive drinking, but a scandal unfolded after Wang Lijun, the city's police chief and a trusted associate of the elder Mr. Bo, sought refuge in the American consulate in Chengdu, a city not far from Chongqing. Mr. Wang stayed overnight, reportedly revealing details of the crime to consular officials. Mr. Wang, who was said to be fearful of Mr. Bo's wrath, left the consulate in the custody of officials from Beijing. He remains in custody."

According to the BBC, "the exact nature of Mr. Heywood's role and his relations with the Bo family are unclear and have been the subject of much speculation inside and outside China. At the very least, there were close business contacts between the Bo family and Mr. Heywood."

Louisa Lim, reporting for the NPR Newscast

NPR's Louisa Lim tells our Newscast Desk that the story is "China's biggest political scandal in decades" and comes as party leaders are trying to prepare for a power transition this fall. She says there is "no official word on the fate of Bo Xilai," the politician. Up until recently, as Louisa has reported, Bo Xilai "had seemed headed straight for China's top leadership body, the Politburo Standing Committee." He was party secretary in the major southern city of Chongqing until he was removed from that post in March.

Note: Xinhua referred to her as Bogu Kailai, but NPR.org follows the AP and other news outlets who refer to her as Gu Kailai.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.