BEIJING -- The whistle-blowing Chinese police chief who fled to a U.S. consulate last year testified Saturday that he had feared for his own life after discovering that the wife of his boss, Bo Xilai, had poisoned to death an Englishman.
Wang Lijun, one of an eccentric cast of characters in the ongoing corruption trial-cum-soap opera riveting China, described how Bo physically attacked him after being informed of wife Gu Kailai’s hand in the murder.
“He walked around his desk. He threw a punch at me. It was not a slap,” Wang said, disputing earlier media accounts. “My body shuddered. The corner of my mouth was bleeding and something was coming from my ear.”
The third day of Bo’s trial focused on charges of abuse of power stemming from the murder of British expatriate Neil Heywood, in Chongqing, where the defendant had been Communist Party secretary until the scandal blew apart his career last year. Although Bo isn’t charged in the murder itself, he is alleged to have covered it up in order to protect his wife, who was convicted of the crime last year.
Wang also testified that Bo screamed at him and broke a glass. A few days later Bo fired him as police chief of Chongqing and demoted four other police officials.
The 53-year-old Wang testified that it was Bo’s behavior that prompted him to flee to the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu, the capital of adjoining Sichuan province.
“It was very dangerous. I faced violence. The people who worked for me had disappeared,” Wang explained to the court, according to transcripts of the testimony released Saturday night.
Wang’s flight to the U.S. Consulate in February 2012 set off a diplomatic crisis from Beijing to Washington. Bo dispatched his own police to Chengdu, 180 miles away, surrounding the consulate. Eventually the police chief surrendered to Chinese authorities and blew the whistle, setting in motion his boss’ spectacular downfall.
Saturday was the first time the two Chinese officials had seen each other in 18 months. The exact nuance in their interaction is impossible to assess since the trial, taking place in Jinan, 250 miles south of Beijing, is closed to the media. However, transcripts released later in the day showed Bo did not dispute most of Wang’s testimony.
“I made mistakes .... I didn’t handle this with a calm attitude and I made poor judgments,” he told the court, according to the transcript. “I damaged the reputation of the Communist Party and the nation. I feel deeply ashamed.”
Never contrite for too long, Bo went on to explain himself. He said he couldn’t believe it when Wang first told him his wife had murdered Heywood and thought that Wang had to be setting him up.
“My impression was that Gu was a fragile and gentle person. She couldn’t possibly kill somebody,” Bo said. When he told his wife about Wang’s accusation, Gu accused Wang of trying to frame her. She also showed Bo the original police report in which Heywood’s death was attributed to excessive alcohol consumption.
“I trusted what my wife told me .... In the past, she and Wang were best friends. Now I thought he was trying to betray her. I was really angry.”
Gu, an attorney, admitted last year in court that she lured the 41-year-old Heywood to Chongqing and laced a drink with cyanide after he threatened her son, who was at the time a graduate student at Harvard’s Kennedy School. Evidence emerged during Bo’s trial that Heywood had been managing a $3.3-million villa in the French Rivera that had been a gift to the family from a Chinese tycoon.
Besides abuse of power, Bo is charged with bribery and extortion, in large part over money and gifts given to his wife and their son, Guagua. Conducting much of his own defense, the 64-year-old Bo told the court Saturday that he didn’t know about money his wife received because she had left him to live in Britain, where their son attended high school and college.
“I had an affair and she was furious about that. She took Guagua away, to a large extent to get back at me,” said Bo, according to the transcript.
Despite the blockade on live coverage, the Jinan Intermediate Court has been releasing selected portions of the transcripts with a delay of a few hours on a microblog, turning the legal proceedings into a dramatic serial with at least a passing resemblance, Chinese-style, to “House of Cards.”
An ambitious politician, Bo had served on the 25-member Politburo and at one point had been thought a contender to lead China into the 21st century. Both he and his rival, current President Xi Jinping, are sons of close comrades of Communist China’s founder, Mao Zedong.
The trial transcripts have offered a rare up-close insight into the personal foibles of one of China’s most elite families. In court, Bo has come off as an imperious and somewhat paranoid politician. He at one point denied a witness’ claim that he discussed a bribe on the telephone, saying, “Would I talk about such a sensitive topic over the phone? People who are familiar with me all know that I always ask them to turn off their phone when talking to me. I'm a rather cautious person.”
Bo also admitted that he had used Wang, who was at the time a famous crime-busting police chief, as something of a personal flunky to handle family problems. At one point, when Gu was upset that Guagua had a girlfriend in Britain, he asked Wang to bring the boy back to China.
Wang also testified that he had been asked to provide personal security for Guagua when he was a student at Harvard, although it is unclear how he would have done so, given that his official position was as police chief in Chongqing.
The trial is scheduled to conclude Sunday with more testimony from Wang. China state television has reported that a verdict is expected in September.ALSO:
Tommy Yang of the Times’ Beijing bureau contributed to this report.