China to hold Gu Kailai murder trial on Aug 9: sources

BEIJING Sat Aug 4, 2012 9:19pm EDT

Combination photograph shows Bo Xilai (L-R) as Chinese Minister of Commerce during a meeting in Beijing June 4, 2005; British businessman Neil Heywood at an Aston Martin dealership in Beijing May 26, 2010; and Gu Kailai, wife of China's former Chongqing Municipality Communist Party Secretary Bo at a mourning for her father-in-law Bo Yibo, former vice-chairman of the Central Advisory Commission of the Communist Party of China, in Beijing January 17, 2007. REUTERS/Stringer/File

Combination photograph shows Bo Xilai (L-R) as Chinese Minister of Commerce during a meeting in Beijing June 4, 2005; British businessman Neil Heywood at an Aston Martin dealership in Beijing May 26, 2010; and Gu Kailai, wife of China's former Chongqing Municipality Communist Party Secretary Bo at a mourning for her father-in-law Bo Yibo, former vice-chairman of the Central Advisory Commission of the Communist Party of China, in Beijing January 17, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Stringer/File

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BEIJING (Reuters) - China will open the murder trial of Gu Kailai, the wife of ousted Communist Party Politburo member Bo Xilai, on August 9, two sources said on Friday, a case at the center of a scandal that has rocked the government and could bring Gu the death penalty.

Both sources requested anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the case, and provided no other details.

China only last week formally announced Gu's indictment on charges of murdering a British man in November.

Gu will face trial in Hefei, provincial capital of Anhui in eastern China, though she is accused of murdering businessman Neil Heywood in Chongqing, a southwest municipality that her husband Bo turned into a showpiece for his controversial policies.

British diplomats have requested access to the trial. CNN reported that two family members would be allowed to attend and that the trial was expected to be speedy.

Bo, who was dismissed as chief of Chongqing in March, has not been named as a suspect in the murder case, but he is separately under investigation by party authorities and could also face trial at a later time.

Political observers have said a failure to forge a unified stance on handling the divisive Bo case could affect the Communist Party's focus on working out leadership changes that will be decided at the 18th national congress later this year.

Bo, 62, was widely seen as pushing for a spot in that new leadership until felled by the scandal brought to light by his former police chief, Wang Lijun.

Bo, also a former commerce minister, had used his post in Chongqing since 2007 to recast the sprawling, haze-covered municipality into a showcase for his mix of populist policies and bold investment and spending plans.

Wang, 52, spearheaded Bo's controversial campaign against organized crime, a plank in Bo's barely concealed campaign to join the topmost ranks of the party. Critics said the campaign involved widespread abuses of police powers.

But Wang said he came to fear for his own safety after a split with Bo in late January over allegations that Bo's wife Gu was involved in the suspected murder of Heywood, sources familiar with the later Chinese investigation have said.

(Reporting by Chris Buckley; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Mark Bendeich and Nick Macfie)

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