Ex-police Chief in China Scandal Sought US Asylum

By Charles Hutzler 20 September 2012

BEIJING—Hours after she poisoned a British businessman, Gu Kailai reached out to a trusted ally—Wang Lijun. Gu was the wife of Bo Xilai, the Communist Party boss in the inland Chinese megalopolis of Chongqing; Wang was Bo’s chief of police and longtime collaborator.

According to an account released on Wednesday by the government’s Xinhua news agency, when a panicked Gu turned to Wang for assistance following the murder, Wang helped her cover up the crime.

Within weeks, his relations with Gu became strained. He approached “the Chongqing party committee’s main responsible person at the time”—an apparent reference to Bo himself—to tell him about the murder. For that, Wang “received an angry rebuke and was boxed in the ears,” Xinhua said.

Only then, according to the account, did Wang flee to the US Consulate in nearby Chengdu and request asylum from American diplomats.

Wang’s flight in February set off the seamiest political scandal China has seen in decades. The fallout included an end to Bo’s career as a rising star in party politics, his wife’s conviction for murder, and serious complications for an insular Chinese leadership attempting to transfer power to a new generation this fall.

Xinhua’s account is a sanitized version of Wang’s trial that ended on Tuesday on charges of bribery, abuse of power and defection, but is the fullest explanation by the government of how the scandal unfolded in its early days. It also conflicts with statements by US officials and diplomats that Wang, a potential source on China’s opaque high-level politics, never sought asylum before he voluntarily left the consulate into the custody of Chinese authorities.

The account is the latest sign that after seven months of debate, Bo’s fellow leaders are nearing a resolution on his fate—whether merely to expel him from the party or prosecute him on criminal charges.

A flamboyant, telegenic son of a revolutionary leader, Bo was a rare politician with a popular national profile and deep connections in the top rungs of the party, government and military. Since being suspended from the leadership in April, his name had not been mentioned in previous statements about the scandal—not even obliquely.

In the Xinhua account, Bo’s Chongqing comes across as a place where Wang reigned as police chief unbridled by the law and where the powerful traded favors, even over murder.

It said Wang took money from two businessmen to buy and rent housing in Chongqing and Beijing. In return, when they asked, he ordered suspects released from police detention. He put people under electronic surveillance without authorization.

Bo’s wife, Gu, confided in Wang last year that she and her son were in a business dispute with Briton Neil Heywood, and that he had allegedly threatened her son’s life, Xinhua said. Wang and Gu first met in 2007 and had maintained close relations since. Wang put Heywood under surveillance.

On Nov. 13, the night she poisoned Heywood in a Chongqing hotel room, Gu called Wang and said she and the Briton had been drinking. About 12 hours later, Gu confessed the murder to Wang, Xinhua said.

“He told me not to think about it, that from now on I shouldn’t concern myself,” the account quoted Gu as saying at her trial last month, at which she received a suspended death sentence. Gu testified that “I said ‘I’m a bit worried.’ He said, ‘It will be fine in a week or two.’”

Unknown to Gu, Wang recorded the conversation. He then sent police officers to remove and destroy evidence, including hotel surveillance videos of her on the night of the murder, Xinhua said. He had Heywood declared dead by excessive drinking.

After the body was cremated, Wang called Gu and told her, “It’s all gone up in smoke, flown on a crane to paradise,” the account said.

Then, they grew estranged. Gu invited the four police subordinates Wang had put in charge of the Heywood case to a banquet. The favor angered Wang, whose cross words soon made their way back to Gu. She stopped seeing Wang. Four of his aides then found themselves under investigation, escalating the conflict between Wang and Gu, Xinhua said.

That led Wang on Jan. 28 to confront the party boss—presumably Bo—about Gu’s role in the murder. “After Wang Lijun got slapped, the conflict became public,” one of Wang’s investigators in the cover-up, Guo Weiguo, later told interrogators.

With strains growing, Wang ordered other subordinates to gather up blood samples from Heywood and other evidence of the murder and had them store the materials and his secret recordings for safekeeping, Xinhua said. Wang was soon shunted aside, relieved of his police duties and reassigned as a vice mayor for the environment, education and other fields. Three more of his aides fell under investigation.

It was in his new vice-mayor’s role that Wang got an appointment to meet US diplomats at the Chengdu consulate on Feb. 6. He began to talk about his new duties but then said “his personal security was threatened because of his investigation of criminal cases. He asked the United States to provide shelter for him and filled out an application for political asylum,” the account said.

It does not say what else Wang told the diplomats. Diplomats in Beijing have said he only discussed the Heywood murder and offered to provide evidence, though he did not carry any, and he spent much of the time on the phone with Chinese officials. On Bo’s further involvement, the account is silent.

At Wang’s trial, prosecutors acknowledged that his later cooperation helped convict Gu, known in official accounts as Bogu Kailai, a combination of her and her husband’s surnames.

It was because of her, Wang told the court, that he covered up the murder.

“After coming to Chongqing, I visited Bogu Kailai’s home often, and I thought she treated me quite well. I knew if the case was treated as a homicide, it would be huge. However, to avoid antagonism with Bogu Kailai, I shunned the case,” the account quoted Wang as confessing.