5 Aug 2012

UK diplomats allowed to attend sensitive Chinese trial

1:45 pm on 5 August 2012

China has given permission for British diplomats to attend the trial of the wife of an ousted Chinese politician charged with the murder of a British businessman.

The trial of Gu Kailai, the wife of former senior Communist Party official Bo Xilai, is due to begin on Thursday. The alleged murder triggered Mr Bo's downfall in a scandal that has rocked Chinese politics.

China analysts say it is unusual for foreign diplomats to attend such a high-profile and politically sensitive court case.

The businessman, Neil Heywood, was found dead in a hotel room last November in Chongqing.

Local officials initially said he died of excessive drinking, but the government announced in April it was investigating Ms Gu in connection with the case.

Prosecutors announced last week that she and Zhang Xiaojun, who was employed at Mr Bo's home, had been charged with intentional homicide.

Mr Bo has been suspended from political life and his wife could be executed if she is convicted of the murder.

Trial expected to be held far away

The BBC reports that the exact nature of Mr Heywood's role and his relations with the Bo family have been the subject of much speculation inside and outside China. At the very least, there were close business contacts between the Bo family and Mr Heywood.

The trial is expected to take place in the eastern city of Hefei, even though the crime allegedly took place hundreds of miles to the west in the megacity of Chongqing.

Legal experts have previously told the BBC that Chinese authorities would have had concerns about the political influence Mr Bo and his family might still exert in Chongqing and whether that would affect a fair trial.

Mr Bo, the former high-flying leader of Chongqing, was sacked in March and is under investigation for allegedly flouting Communist Party rules.

He made his name tackling corruption and had been expected to be elected to an important position during the once-in-a-decade leadership change due at the Communist Party congress this autumn.

Analysts say the authorities are keen to resolve the case quickly before China undergoes that politically sensitive transition.