Chinese Police Chief Gets 15 Years in Jail

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: It's the messiest, most public scandal that China's Communist Party leaders have had to confront in decades. It involves a former police chief, the wife of a once-prominent politician, and a murdered British businessman, and now all eyes are on the fallen politician himself, Bo Xilai. The World's Mary Kay Magistad is in Beijing, and, Mary Kay, this is a complex plot to say the least. So connect the dots for us between Bo Xilai, his wife, and now this former top cop, Wang Lijun.

Mary Kay Magistad: The news today is that Wang Lijun is sentenced to fifteen years in prison with one year additional surrender of political rights, which was considered to be a pretty lenient sentence given that he could have been sentenced to a charge of treason and could have gotten death for it. Of course, the other case that is outstanding at that of Bo Xilai himself. Bo Xilai was a Politburo member, he was an up and coming very ambitious party official who had been the party chief in the city of Dalian — a business-oriented city on the northeast, then moved to Chongqing. He was known both for his populist policies in Chongqing and also for a rather vicious "strike hard against crime" campaign and Wang Lijun was the police officer who was his enforcer on that campaign. What's interesting about the way the case was prosecuted against Wang Lijun is he had fled to the US Consulate in February. It became clear after he was there for thirty-six hours that something very odd was going on, and what we found out months later was that what was going on was that he was singing to the US diplomats and telling them what had happened with the murder of this British businessman and he said the wife of Bo Xilai murdered this guy because they had had a dispute. She wanted him to help her get money out of the country and he wanted a bigger cut than she was willing to give. He had with him evidence including a recording of Bo Xilai's wife's confession. He said that he had blood from the heart of the British businessman that showed that he had been poisoned. Now, in the Xinhua news account of what happened in the trial, it says that at one point at the end of January when Wang Lijun went to the top Communist Party official in Chongqing, that is no other person than Bo Xilai, although they didn't mention Bo Xilai by name, and he told him what he believed had happened and that he had evidence, Bo Xilai slapped him.

Werman: So Wang Lijun went to the Americans and told 'em the story. Did he feel like he didn't get any kind of traction with Bo Xilai?

Magistad: Well, when he went to the Americans he was in fear of his life. He had gone to Bo Xilai, Bo Xilai slapped him, Wang Lijun was removed from his position by Bo Xilai and several of his allies within the police force were arrested and prosecuted and tortured in some cases. So he sort of saw what was going on and thought, "I'm getting outta here,' went to the US embassy and asked for political asylum. The US declined to give him political asylum. It was just before Xi Jinping, current vice president, likely to be the next head of the Communist Party and President of China, was going to visit the US and it was just a little too sticky. This was not a human rights dissident; this was someone who had a very messy human rights record himself as police chief of Chongqing. So he left, he was taken into custody by the central government authorities which got him out of the grips of the Chongqing authorities who were also waiting outside the consulate, wanting to take him in. And that might be the way that he slipped through not living to tell the tale quite literally.

Werman: So is there a strategy for the Chinese authorities now om dealing with this case? I mean they're now back to Bo Xilai, the central character. I mean what happens to him?

Magistad: Well, that's the big question and nobody really knows. He's said to be in the northeast of China undergoing interrogation. We're coming up on a once-every-ten-year transfer of leadership authority. There was a time only a few months ago when Bo Xilai was supposed to be one of those in the ascendancy. He was looking for a slot in the Politburo standing committee. That's not going to happen. He's been stripped off his party positions, but he still has a lot of allies and behind the scenes it's believed that those allies have been sort of jockeying and trying to make sure that he gets the lightest possible treatment. So it's a very open question and a very interesting question how Bo Xilai is taken care of and whether that happens before the party congress is held.

Werman: The World's Mary Kay Magistad in Beijing. Thanks for helping to unravel this a little bit today.

Magistad: Thank you, Marco.