Wang Lijun speaks at a news conference in 2008, when he was police chief in… (Associated Press )
BEIJING — The flamboyant police official who blew the whistle onChina's most sensational murder case by fleeing to a U.S. Consulate appears headed for prosecution himself.
Four underlings of the official, Wang Lijun, went on trial Friday on charges of covering up the poisoning in November of a British consultant on behalf of Gu Kailai, the powerful wife of former Chongqing Communist Party chairman Bo Xilai.
And during Gu's trial Thursday, the prosecution claimed that Gu had repeatedly discussed with Wang the idea of killing Neil Heywood, and that the two had plotted for Heywood to be slain during what looked like a drug raid, according to a lawyer who attended the closed proceedings.
"Wang knew about it all along. He and Gu discussed whether to frame Heywood as a drug dealer, but they gave up this idea," said the lawyer, citing the prosecution argument. The lawyer spoke on condition of anonymity because he had been instructed by the court not to speak to journalists.
The trials are taking place in Hefei, capital of Anhui province, and have been closed to all but a few handpicked spectators. Another attendee, college student Zhao Xiangcha, offered a similar account of the trial in a lengthy posting on a Chinese microblog that was later deleted.
The lawyer said that, according to the prosecution, Wang and Gu met the day before the 41-year-old Heywood arrived in Chongqing, as well as the day after Heywood was forced to drink poison-laced water but before his body was discovered by hotel staff.
Wang, 52, the former police chief of Chongqing and a close associate of Bo, is one of the most enigmatic figures in the politically charged murder case consuming China. He has appeared in Chinese accounts alternately as a courageous whistle-blower or a traitor who betrayed his country and party with wild accusations.
Wang's prosecution could be an embarrassment for the United States: According to some accounts, he was denied political asylum and was pressured to surrender himself to Beijing authorities.
Disguised in a woman's wig, Wang fled Chongqing on Feb. 6 and arrived at the U.S. Consulate in nearby Chengdu, saying his life was in danger. He claimed to have discovered evidence that Heywood, whose death was previously ruled a heart attack brought on by alcohol, had been murdered, and said he feared that Bo would have him killed for not participating in the cover-up.
Dozens of police cars surrounded the consulate during the incident and photographs captured byChina'subiquitous cellphones were immediately posted online. The Communist Party was forced to acknowledge what had happened. Bo was sacked as party chief in Chongqing and removed from the Politburo.
"The Wang Lijun incident is the first incident since the founding of thePeople's Republic of Chinain which a provincial-level official entered a foreign consulate on his own initiative and remained," according to an internal party document leaked in March.
A report in Friday's edition of the South China Morning Post said Wang would stand trial for treason, possibly as early as next week in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province. The report said he was expected to receive a lenient sentence because of the "merit" of what he had contributed to the investigation.
Court officials say Gu did not dispute the charge of premeditated murder at her trial. She is awaiting a formal verdict and sentencing.
The four police officials from Chongqing, all of whom reported to Wang, stood trial Friday in Hefei on charges of having helped Gu cover up the killing, which under Chinese law is similar to dereliction of duty.
They include former Chongqing Deputy Police Chief Guo Weiguo and two district police chiefs, Wang Zhi and Wang Pengfei. The results of the trial have not been released, but friends of Wang Pengfei have publicly disputed the charges, saying he had played a key role in the investigation, obtaining a blood sample from Heywood's body before it was cremated and hiding the sample where it could not be destroyed by the Bo family.
"There is still a coverup going on. They are prosecuting people who tried to expose the murder," said Watson Meng, founder and editor in chief of Boxun, a U.S.-based Chinese-language website that is reporting extensively on the case.
The Communist Party is eager to wrap up the case before a congress this year to anoint a successor to retiring President Hu Jintao and other top leaders. The charismatic Bo, son of one of Mao Tse-tung's closest allies, had been seen as a contender for a top job.
One major question is whether Bo will face charges of corruption or obstruction of justice in the case, which exposed the ways in which party heavyweights can illegally enrich themselves. Heywood is believed to have helped the family smuggle money out of China in violation of currency controls.
Although the prosecution claimed that Heywood was threatening the Bo family for payment in a soured real estate deal, some analysts are skeptical.