Chinese police 'admit' Gu Kailai cover-up: official

HEFEI, China - Four Chinese police officers on Friday admitted in court to covering up the killing of a British businessman to protect the wife of a senior politician charged with his murder, an official said.

The men were accused of trying to protect the spouse of Bo Xilai, who was one of China's most senior leaders until his downfall earlier this year in a political scandal that has shaken the ruling Communist party.

All four were senior police officials in Chongqing, the southwestern Chinese megacity that Bo ran until he was sacked in March, and where British businessman Neil Heywood's body was discovered in a hotel room last November.

Tang Yigan, an official with the Hefei Intermediate Court in eastern China, told reporters their one-day trial had ended late Friday and that a verdict would be given at a later date.

"The defendants admitted that the charge of bending the law for selfish ends was basically correct," he said of the four, named as Guo Weiguo, Li Yang, Wang Pengfei and Wang Zhi.

Bo's wife Gu Kailai went on trial on Thursday accused of killing Heywood by pouring poison into his mouth when he was drunk - a charge she did not contest in court.

The verdict on Gu will also be delivered at a later date - possibly days or weeks away - but there is little doubt she will be found guilty.

On Friday, the court heard how the officers covered up her involvement in Heywood's death by "forging interview scripts and hiding evidence," agreeing to say he died of excessive alcohol consumption.

It is not clear whether Bo knew about the alleged cover-up, although the hearing was being closely watched for any hints on the likely fate of the charismatic and ambitious former leader.

Experts say the process has been carefully stage-managed to minimise embarrassment to China's communist rulers after the scandal, which ended her husband's career and exposed divisions in the party.

The party is keen to resolve the crisis before a 10-yearly handover of power later this year, when seven of its most senior leaders will stand down from their positions and hand over to a new generation, they say.

"It is quite clear that the authorities have reached an agreement over Bo Xilai," said Joseph Cheng, professor of political science at the City University of Hong Kong.

"(Gu's) trial went so smoothly and according to the script... there was no mention of corruption and Bo Xilai's name wasn't mentioned."

Bo was sacked from the powerful 25-member Communist Party Politburo in April and placed under investigation for violating party discipline - usually code for corruption. Nothing has been heard from him since.

Gu's trial drew comparisons with that of Chinese leader Mao Zedong's widow Jiang Qing, who along with the three other members of the "Gang of Four" was convicted for fomenting the tumultuous Cultural Revolution.

While murder carries the death penalty in China, legal experts say Gu is likely to be spared execution and will instead face a long jail term.

Her lawyer told the court her cooperation in the investigation - including "reporting offences by other people" - should be taken into account in her sentencing.

He also said Gu was not in full control of herself when she committed the crime, a court official told journalists after the hearing in the eastern city of Hefei.

China's official Xinhua news agency has said she had business dealings with Heywood and killed him after he threatened her son Bo Guagua following a dispute over money.

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