Wang Lijun
© The Associated PressWang Lijun
Trial of Wang Lijun in Chengdu city's intermediate court concludes without verdict

China signalled Tuesday it will be lenient with an ex-police chief enmeshed in a political scandal roiling the country's leadership, saying he co-operated with investigators who brought down a top Chinese politician's wife for the murder of a British businessman.

Wang Lijun's trial in Chengdu city's Intermediate Court concluded Tuesday without a verdict after two half-day sessions that were closed to the foreign media. Afterward, a court spokesman summarized the proceedings for reporters, saying Wang initially covered up the murder of Briton Neil Heywood.

But, the spokesman said, Wang later turned himself in and provided information to investigators that led to a murder conviction against Heywood's business associate Gu Kailai, the wife of Chongqing Communist Party chief Bo Xilai. She received a suspended death sentence.

The proceedings bring Chinese leaders a step closer to resolving the scandal that exposed seamy infighting and buffeted a delicate transfer of power to new leaders expected to take place next month.

Wang 'knew perfectly well' Bo's wife under suspicion

The trial summary briefly described Wang's role in covering up the murder last year, saying that he "knew perfectly well" that Gu was under "serious suspicion" for the crime all along. It said that although he helped cover it up, both the prosecutors and defence lawyers told the court that he later co-operated with authorities.

The emphasis in the court's statement on Wang's co-operation suggests authorities may give him a lighter sentence. In its summary, the court said three times that Wang's co-operation and his surrender to authorities may merit lighter punishments.

The crimes he faces are generally punishable by up to 10 years in prison with a 20-year maximum for consecutive sentences, though sentencing guidelines allow for life imprisonment or the death penalty in egregious cases.

Wang fled to U.S. consulate in February

The scandal erupted after Wang fled to the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu in February with information that Heywood - whose death in November was initially ruled as either from excessive drinking or a heart attack - was in fact murdered and that Gu was a suspect. After a 33-hour stay at the consulate, Wang gave himself up to Chinese authorities.

Absent in the trial summary was any mention of Bo, Wang's longtime boss and Gu's husband. Bo was removed as Chongqing's chief and suspended from the Politburo and his fate remains the thorniest issue his colleagues must still resolve.

The scandal would have stayed under wraps but for Wang's disclosure to U.S. diplomats. Following British demands for a full investigation, Chinese leaders were forced to make public scandalous details that it would have preferred to keep private, further dirtying the Communist Party's already soiled image to the public.

The fall-out saw the Chinese leadership devote energies to damage control just as they were engaging in tricky back-channel politicking to choose the country's next generation of leaders.

Leaders must decide whether to expel Bo from the party and prosecute him, and differences are believed to have delayed announcing dates for a party congress to install the new leadership.

Source: The Associated Press and The Canadian Press