Bo Xilai, Neil Heywood and Gu Kailai. Gu confessed to the murder of Heywood in a August 2012 trial in China., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Neil Heywood murder: Bo Xilai police chief charged with defection
The Chinese police chief who blew the whistle on Neil Heywood's murder, in the process toppling one of the Communist party's most powerful families, faces at least a decade in prison after charges were laid against him.
Wang Lijun, 52, has been charged with "bending the law for selfish ends, defection, abuse of power and bribe-taking," according to Xinhua, the state news agency.
His lawyer, Wang Yuncai (no relation), said she expected to receive the notice of his trial next week. Mr Wang is almost certain to be found guilty: over 98 per cent of criminal cases in China end with a conviction.
Xinhua noted that the "facts related to Wang Lijun's crimes were clear" and that "the evidence was concrete and abundant".
Mr Wang's trial will pave the way for the Communist party to reach a resolution on Bo Xilai, the former Party secretary of Chongqing and the police chief's former boss.
Mr Bo fell from the pinnacle of the Communist party after Mr Wang exposed his wife, Gu Kailai, as Mr Heywood's killer. At a trial last month, Mrs Gu was given a suspended death sentence, but could serve as little as nine years if she wins medical parole.
Mr Wang has not been seen or heard of since February 7, the day after he passed over a dossier on the Heywood case to American diplomats.
Mr Bo, meanwhile, disappeared into the custody of the Party's disciplinary body the following month.
Xinhua's report said Mr Wang was aware that Mr Bo's wife had murdered Mr Heywood but he "consciously neglected his duty and bent the law" in order to cover up the crime.
Subsequently, he fled to the US consulate in Chengdu, dressed in a woman's wig and reportedly in fear for his life. For this, he has been charged with defection, which carries a ten-year sentence.
He is fortunate, however to have escaped the capital crime of treason, especially since Hu Jintao, the Chinese president, is said to have denounced him as a "traitor" in an internal meeting in March.
Other charges against Mr Wang included forging permits for illegal wire taps, which carries a five-year sentence, and corruption, which can in severe cases be punishable by death. "Wang took advantage of his position and accepted massive bribes in a bid to secure benefits for other individuals," said Xinhua.
At Mrs Gu's trial, Mr Wang was said to have conspired with her to kill Mr Heywood in a shoot-out, but subsequently abandoned the idea. After Mrs Gu poisoned Mr Heywood, she told Mr Wang, who secretly recorded their conversation and kept a piece of Mr Heywood's heart as evidence.
The Foreign office did not call for a fresh investigation into Mr Heywood's death until after American diplomats passed over Mr Wang's information.
One former government official in Chongqing said the charges were relatively lenient, and suggested that Mr Bo may also escape harsh punishment. "It may not even be made public," he said.
Another retired official in the city agreed. "Mr Bo's case will be dealt with internally and through an administrative procedure, not in court. It is unlikely he will be imprisoned, he was not even mentioned during his wife's trial," he said.
Another political commentator in Chongqing, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the case, said that the Party had carefully divided, over the course of several months, the three main characters in Mr Heywood's murder. "Originally Bo, Gu and Wang's cases were a trio, inseparable from each other," he said. "But now you can see how Mr Bo has been split away from it."
However, he said a verdict on Mr Bo was unlikely to be released before a once-in-a-decade leadership transition in mid-October. "It will make no one happy to release the news beforehand," he said.
One diplomatic source suggested that Mr Wang has not been in a sufficiently good mental or physical state in recent days to stand trial. A source at the Public Security Bureau in Chongqing, which Mr Wang used to head, said the former police chief had shown "clear signs of mental instability" during his tenure.
An ethnic Mongolian, Mr Wang arrived in Chongqing in June 2008 and was appointed the municipality's police chief the following year. He had been hired from Liaoning province, where his exploits had inspired a television series "Iron-Blooded Police Spirits".
His main legacy in Chongqing was the "strike black" campaign, initiated by Mr Bo, which saw nearly 4,800 people detained over ten months from June 2009. Thirteen people were executed, as Mr Bo boasted he had dismantled the city's mafia.
However, the campaign also targeted several legitimate businessmen who had landed on the wrong side of Mr Bo, and involved the use of secret jails and torture. By one estimate, about 1,700 police officers were fired under Mr Wang and many of them are now demanding to be reinstated.
Additional reporting by Valentina Luo