China sets Monday verdict for ex-police chief at heart of Bo scandal

BEIJING Thu Sep 20, 2012 11:33pm EDT

Former police chief Wang Lijun speaks during a court hearing in Chengdu in this still image taken from video September 18, 2012. REUTERS/CCTV via Reuters TV

Former police chief Wang Lijun speaks during a court hearing in Chengdu in this still image taken from video September 18, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/CCTV via Reuters TV

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BEIJING (Reuters) - A Chinese court will announce its verdict on a former police chief at the centre of the country's biggest political scandal in decades on Monday, an official said, with observers in little doubt that he will be found guilty.

The hearing for Wang Lijun, former police chief of southwestern Chongqing municipality, will come a week after he was tried in Chengdu on multiple charges, chiefly that he sought to cover up the murder of a British businessman by Gu Kailai, the wife of one of China's most senior and ambitious politicians, Bo Xilai.

"The verdict will be announced at 8:30 am on September 24 in our court," an official in the Chengdu court news department told Reuters.

Wang's defense lawyer confirmed the date.

China's Communist Party-run courts rarely find in favor of defendants and official accounts of Wang's trial have said that he admitted defecting to a U.S. consulate and did not contest the other charges.

Wang has been at the heart of a scandal that rocked China, exposing rifts and uncertainty at a time when the Communist Party is preparing for a once-in-a-decade leadership change.

That leadership handover could come at a party congress as early as next month.

Wang, 52, lifted the lid on the murder of the British businessman Neil Heywood in February when he fled to the consulate for over 24 hours and, according to sources, told envoys there about the murder that would later bring down Bo.

Within two months of Wang's visit to the consulate, Bo was sacked as party boss and from the Politburo and Bo's wife was accused of poisoning the businessman. Gu has since been given a suspended death sentence.

So far, Chinese officials and media have been silent on the fate of Bo. But an official account of Wang's trial for the first time implicated him in a criminal act, indicating that he had "angrily rebuked" Wang for confronting him with the murder allegations against Gu.

That reference to Bo increased the chances of him also facing criminal charges, possibly for covering up a crime.

(Reporting by Chris Buckley, Sally Huang and Terril Yue Jones; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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