Gu Kailai Gets A Suspended Death Sentence. That’s Life In Chinese Communist Speak, In Case You’re Wondering
Gu Suhua writes from Hefei: The ‘trial of the century’ in China has come to an end and the verdict has been announced: Gu Kailai, the wife of the disgraced former top communist party boss who ran the huge metropolis of Chongqing, Bo Xilai, has received a ‘suspended death sentence’ for the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood. And in case you’re wondering what this means in Chinese communist speak, it means life behind bars.
Mrs Gu pleaded guilty to all charges and confessed that she had poisoned Heywood in November 2011. She revealed to wide eyed judges that she lured the British businessman to Chongqing, got him drunk and then poured cyanide into his mouth. Why did she do this? She said she had suffered a mental breakdown.
Strange as it may seem, Gu was actually treated leniently by Chinese standards: usually people get a bullet for murder in China. But Gu cooperated with the prosecution and cleared her husband Bo Xilai of any involvement in the crime. The sensitive question of corruption did not come up at all. Heywood was believed to have laundered the family’s wealth in London and elsewhere. Estimates in the Chinese press put the amount of money he moved abroad from $2 billion to $6 billion. So now ordinary people in China have some sort of idea how much money their leaders make. And it makes a lot of them very angry.
The Communist Party has acted quickly, trying to downplay the crisis. Bo Xilai had been dropped from the Politburo and his career fell apart. Gu will probably go to a special prison. Due to the fact that she said that she committed the crime while undergoing a mental breakdown, it may be even possible to release her at some point in the future, say after 50 years. If she keeps her mouth shut, that is. Presumably the family retains its huge wealth stashed away offshore.
There are those in China though who have doubts about the official version of events. They suspect that the Party leadership, in order to get rid of a comrade who was getting too big for his shoes – rumour had it that he was planning a coup against his comrades – concocted a narrative and blamed Bo and Gu for the corruption and murder. The Party could not put Bo on trial because it would have undermined its own legitimacy. A public trial would have heard evidence of Bo’s wrongdoing. This would have included charges of corruption. The whole of China would have been waiting with bated breath for the next juicy bit of scandal. So it was decided only to charge Bo with infractions of the Party code of conduct. That is something which is heard by a Party investigation agency and the proceedings are not published. So it was decided that Gu would be blamed for everything. She was obviously given assurances that pleading guilty to murder would not result in a death sentence.
So what is the Communist Party telling the world? The lives of foreign businessmen and women are important. They will be protected. It is safe to do business in China.
What does it say about the Chinese legal system? That it sucks and that the real judges sit in the Politburo and not on the bench.
Many Chinese are furious that Gu is not going to be executed. There is some Schadenfreude in it. A top person receiving a bullet in the neck would please many who resent the riches and life style of the elite. It is also a warning to high flyers that there are limits to their wheeling and dealing.
Will it change the way the elite runs the country? Not a chance.