The trial of former Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun, who launched a major political scandal after making a surprise visit to the U.S. Consulate in February, started proceedings a day early. Foreign reporters in Chengdu, where the trial in being held, confirmed that secret hearings started Monday, despite the official trial start date of Tuesday. Wang is being charged with with defection, abuse of power and corruption for his role in the political scandal surrounding former Chongqing Party chief Bo Xilai and his wife Gu Kailai. Tuesday’s trial was originally supposed to be an open trial, but all the seats had been reserved immediately upon announcement of the date. AP reports on Monday’s proceedings:
“It was closed according to Chinese law because it involves state secrets,” said defense lawyer Wang Yuncai, who is not related to her client.
On Tuesday, the court is scheduled to hold the previously announced public portion of the trial — though foreign media won’t be allowed in — and the hearing is expected to go over allegations of bribe-taking and other charges.
The trial was the latest wrinkle in the bizarre months-long scandal that started when Wang fled to the U.S. Consulate in February and divulged the murder of a British businessman. It resulted in the removal of his boss, senior politician Bo Xilai, from the communist leadership and the roiling of the Communist Party leadership as it prepares a delicate transfer of power to younger leaders.
Tom Phillips of the Daily Telegraph was in Chengdu but could not get official confirmation that the proceedings were held, despite confirmation from lawyers and others involved. He reports:
“The trial started at 8.30 this morning and finished at about noon,” Ms Wang [Wang Lijun’s defense lawyer], who is no relation to her client, said. “The trial has two parts, private and public. Today is the private part because it involves state secrets – it was about the two charges of defection and bending the law for his own ends,” added Ms Wang who is the director of the Beijing L&A law firm in Shenyang.
Police and security forces surrounded the People’s Intermediate Courthouse in Chengdu, southwest China, but a local government official claimed the security presence was merely a “rehearsal” and denied Mr Wang’s trial had started.
Si Beibei, a local government official, said the trial would only start on Tuesday and would only last one day.
“It is hard to say how it went. I cannot comment right because the second part is still to come. Tomorrow will deal with the other charges. I cannot comment on any other details at the moment,” Ms Wang said.
Phillips reported being closely watched by security while in the city:
My morning stroll through Chengdu took a slightly sinister turn outside courthouse where Wang Lijun is going on trial…
— Tom Phillips (@tomphillipsin) September 17, 2012
Seconds after arriving I was surrounded by pub. security w/ video cams & radios. Said they were filming me in case of “potential accidents”
— Tom Phillips (@tomphillipsin) September 17, 2012
Over the weekend, the Wall Street Journal published a report which includes previously-unknown details about Wang’s visit to the U.S. Consulate in February, during which he provided information to U.S. officials that implicated Gu Kailai, wife of the powerful Chongqing Party chief Bo Xilai, in the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood. Gu Kailai has since been sentenced to a suspended death sentence and Bo Xilai has been removed from his position, though his fate remains unclear. From the Wall Street Journal report on Wang’s time in the U.S. Consulate [subscription only]:
As Chinese police cars surrounded the building, Mr. Wang slipped U.S. diplomats the cellphone number of an accomplice, according to several people familiar with what happened. It would lead to evidence, he said, implicating the wife of Bo Xilai, one of the most senior leaders in the Chinese Communist Party, in the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood.
During a 30-hour standoff, U.S. officials weighed the information he claimed to have against the damage that granting him asylum could do to U.S.-Chinese relations. In the end, diplomats said Mr. Wang didn’t formally seek asylum, and he left the consulate and was taken into Chinese custody.
But the drama didn’t end there. In a previously undisclosed development, the U.S. handed the cellphone number over to British diplomats and gave them instructions on how to track down the information from Mr. Wang’s mysterious accomplice. The instructions included setting up an email account under a designated name with a popular Chinese email and messaging service. The British set up the account and texted the cellphone number. People involved gave conflicting accounts of the timing and whether the accomplice responded. For reasons that are unclear, the British never received the promised documents.
[…] The revelation that he claimed to have an accomplice who may still be prepared to spill secrets could complicate China’s efforts to dictate the narrative about Messrs. Wang and Bo. The new details about Mr. Wang’s stay in the consulate and its aftermath also shed light on how U.S. and British authorities responded to the unusual episode that triggered China’s worst political crisis in more than two decades. Mr. Wang was a potentially valuable intelligence source with inside knowledge about senior Chinese leaders, but also was someone accused by human-rights activists and legal experts of widespread abuse of police powers.