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China jails former police chief

Former police chief Wang Lijun attends a court hearing in Chengdu in this still image taken from video September 18, 2012.

BEIJING – China’s ruling Communist Party took a big step towards sealing the fate of fallen politician Bo Xilai today, when a court jailed his former police chief for 15 years over charges that indicated Bo tried to derail a murder inquiry.

The court in Chengdu in southwest China handed down the sentence against Wang Lijun after finding him guilty on four charges, including seeking to cover up the November 2011 murder of a British businessman, Neil Heywood, by Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai.

The verdict ended the career of one of China’s most storied and controversial police officers and moved the party closer to a formal decision on dealing with Bo, whose downfall has shaken a leadership handover due at a party congress as early as next month.

“Wang Lijun exposed clues of major law-breaking and crimes by others,” said the court verdict, according to the Xinhua news agency. It did not say who those other people were.

“He rendered a major contribution, and according to the law he can receive a lighter sentence,” said the court. Wang could have received life imprisonment, or even a death sentence.

The relatively mild sentence, following official confirmation that Wang shared incriminating clues and that Bo beat him after Wang confronted him over the murder allegations, added weight to predictions that the party will move to jail Bo too, said He Weifang, a law professor at Peking University who has closely followed the case.

“The legal net around Bo Xilai has been slowly tightening,” said He. “He’ll certainly face a criminal trial.”

Experts have offered divided views over whether the party will put Bo before a criminal court or spare him and the leadership that disgrace by simply meting out lighter disciplinary punishment within the party. Some still see that latter course as more likely.

Before Chinese authorities can launch a criminal investigation, the party leadership must first hear the results of an internal investigation and decide whether to hand Bo over. That could happen at a leadership conclave that must take place before the bigger party congress convenes.

“I’d guess now that even within a week the party could announce that he has been handed over to legal authorities,” said Li Weidong, a former magazine editor who has followed the scandal around Bo. (Reuters)

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