HEFEI, China — The sentencing of the wife of a disgraced Chinese politician Monday for the murder of a British businessman clears the way for the ruling Communist Party to deal with a huge political scandal involving her husband before a leadership transition this fall.
Gu Kailai was sent to prison and given a suspended death sentence for the murder of Neil Heywood.
Her husband, Bo Xilai, was formerly one of China’s most prominent politicians before being stripped of his Politburo post in a corruption scandal. He has not been directly implicated in the murder but is accused of unspecified grave violations of party discipline.
‘‘They are eager to close the case and move on,’’ said Dali Yang, director of the University of Chicago Center in Beijing. But it isn’t clear whether the party will deal with Bo internally or put him on trial and risk further harm to its image.
Gu’s suspended sentence will almost certainly be commuted after two years to life in prison, a relatively lenient punishment resulting from her cooperation with investigators and what the court deemed her mental instability at the time of Heywood’s death by cyanide poisoning last November.
GU KAILAI SENT TO PRISON
Family aide Zhang Xiaojun, accused of abetting the murder, was sentenced to nine years, Hefei Intermediate People’s Court official Tang Yigan said.
Gu’s arrest and the ouster of her husband sparked the biggest political turbulence in China since the bloody crackdown on the Tiananmen Square prodemocracy protests in 1989.
Lawyers and political analysts said politics appeared to weigh heavily on the case, with the sentencing of Gu apparently calibrated to assuage demands for justice without being overly harsh.
Beijing-based rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang said the outcome ignored legal strictures that would have required the death penalty, given that Gu had admitted to committing premeditated murder. ‘‘Although I welcome this verdict, it doesn’t actually stand up from a legal standpoint,’’ Pu said.
Peking University law professor He Weifang said political considerations were clearly behind the relative leniency shown to Gu. ‘‘If the murderer was an ordinary person who killed someone, not to mention killing a foreigner, the criminal would be sentenced to immediate execution,’’ He said.
Bo was not called as a witness in the Gu trial and neither the verdict nor the evidence presented made any mention of him. The charges against Gu and Zhang also scrupulously avoided any mention of corruption or abuse of power, serving to shield the party’s image from damage.
Four police officers accused of covering up the crime were given sentences from five to 11 years.
State media said Gu, 53, confessed to intentional homicide at a one-day trial held in this eastern China city on Aug. 9. The media reports — the court has been closed to international media — said she and Heywood had a dispute over money and Heywood allegedly threatened her son. The two reportedly feuded after Heywood asked for a multimillion-dollar commission on a real estate venture that had gone bad.
Gu was accused of luring Heywood to a Chongqing hotel, getting him drunk, and then pouring cyanide into his mouth.