Gu doesn't deny murder charge

HEFEI, CHINA - The woman at the centre of China's most politically explosive trial in three decades did not contest a charge of murder yesterday, at a hearing that lasted just seven hours and which could

determine the fate of former Politburo member Bo Xilai.

A formal verdict will be delivered at a later date, a court official said, recounting details of the closed-door hearing.

Mr Bo's wife, Gu Kailai, chose not to deny the charge of murdering British businessman Neil Heywood.

The dramatic account of his death by poisoning is also likely to sound the final death knell to Mr Bo's political career.

"The accused, Bogu (Gu) Kailai and Zhang Xiaojun, did not raise objections to the charge of intentional homicide," the official, Mr Tang Yigan, said after the hearing, referring also to Gu's co-accused, an aide to the family.

The court official quoted prosecutors as saying Gu and Zhang had killed Mr Heywood with a poisoned drink in far south-western Chongqing last November, after a business dispute between Gu and the Briton.

As a result of the dispute, "Gu believed that Mr Heywood had threatened the personal safety of her son, Mr Bo (Guagua) and decided to kill him", the official said, without elaborating. He read from a statement at a packed news conference of dozens of reporters who had been barred entry to the courtroom in the eastern city of Hefei.

Zhang drove Mr Heywood to Chongqing from Beijing last November and allegedly prepared a poison which was to be put into a drink of water.

Later that day, the Briton met Gu at a hotel, became drunk and then asked for water.

"She poured poison into his mouth," the official said.

Gu and Zhang face the death penalty if convicted.

But many legal experts expect Gu to be convicted but sentenced to only a lengthy jail term, citing her desire to protect her son, who graduated from Harvard this year, as a mitigating factor.

Britain's Foreign Office also declined to comment until the outcome of the case is announced. It said that two British diplomats had attended the trial "to observe the proceedings and fulfil consular responsibilities to the Heywood family".

As the trial took place, police dragged two Bo supporters into an unmarked car after they appeared outside the courthouse, singing patriotic songs that were the trademark of Mr Bo's populist leadership style and condemning the trial as a sham.

State censorship of Internet chatter on the trial was swifter than normal yesterday, with users of China's popular Twitter-like service, Sina Weibo, playing cat and mouse with censors to discuss the case, using wordplay to try and get around the controls.

In sketching out the case against Gu for the first time, the court official also revealed that four Chinese policemen have now been charged with trying to protect her from investigation - a development that could prove dangerous for Mr Bo, who has, so far, not been charged with any criminal offence.

Police sources in Chongqing have said that the former Politburo member tried to shut down the investigation of his wife, after being told that she was a suspect.

The trial and sentencing of both Gu and Zhang are widely seen as a prelude to a possible criminal prosecution of Mr Bo, who is being detained for violating party discipline - an accusation that covers corruption, abuse of power and other misdeeds.

Yesterday morning, there was no sign of Gu's elderly mother, nor of any members of Mr Heywood's family in or around the courtroom.

Tracing the fall of Bo Xilai: The people involved
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