JINAN, China — In a dramatic high point of his trial, Bo Xilai, the fallen Communist Party star, faced off in court Saturday with Wang Lijun, the former police chief whose flight to a US consulate last year set off the biggest scandal to shake the party in decades.
It was the first time the two were known to have seen each other since February 2012, when Wang fled the southwest metropolis of Chongqing, which Bo governed for four years, for the nearby consulate.
There, Wang told US officials that Bo’s wife had poisoned a British businessman, Neil Heywood, and that Bo was now persecuting Wang because he knew about the killing.
Wang, who is serving a 15-year prison sentence for defection and other crimes, took the witness stand Saturday for the prosecution. In glasses, white shirt, and neatly parted hair, he appeared much as he did in September at his own trial. Bo stared at him and took blame, to a degree, for the episode leading to Wang’s flight.
“I made mistakes; I am very ashamed and I am willing to take appropriate responsibility, but whether it’s a crime or not a crime is another matter,” Bo testified. He added that he had not bent the law to protect his wife, because he did not believe that she had killed Heywood, and that he had demoted Wang right before he fled for the consulate because he believed that Wang was unstable.
Wang testified that Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, secretly confessed to him Nov. 14, 2011, that she had just poisoned Heywood. Wang was close to Gu and kept this a secret for a while, but in late January 2012, he said, he told Bo that his wife had killed Heywood.
At a meeting the next day, Bo testified, he slapped Wang in the face in front of other officials. “I couldn’t accept this. I was furious; I smashed a mug to the ground,” Bo said. (Wang said, however, that he had been punched, not slapped, and was bleeding from the mouth.)
Bo is charged with abuse of power for demoting Wang and, prosecutors say, taking other steps to obstruct justice in the Heywood matter. He is also charged with taking bribes and embezzling amounts totaling $4.4 million. The abuse of power charge is the last one to be addressed in the trial, which began Thursday and is expected to run at least through Sunday. Bo has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Bo, a populist politician and the son of a Communist revolutionary leader, was dismissed from his post in March 2012. Soon afterward, the murder scandal became public. Gu was convicted of murder a year ago and given a suspended death sentence — essentially life in prison.
On Saturday, lurid Bo family secrets were laid bare to millions of fascinated Chinese who have been following the trial on a running court microblog that party officials set up in an effort to give the trial a veneer of legitimacy.
Earlier in the day, the defendant rejected accusations of embezzlement after a former colleague testified that Bo had arranged for Gu to accept $820,000 of government money earmarked for a secret construction project in the early 2000s.
Bo said that after his wife found out about an affair of his, she left for Britain with their son, Bo Guagua, and lived mainly there from 2000 to 2007, while their son was in school. Bo said Gu, a lawyer, had saved a lot of money — $3.3 million to $5 million in cash and assets — and his son had scholarships for his schooling, so he had no need to steal government money.
Bo’s admission of an affair was immediately seized on by Chinese Web portals, which posted the headline “Bo Xilai Admits in Court Having Had an Affair, Wife Took Son off to England in a Rage.” It was an example of the way that China’s major state-approved news portals were presenting a unified voice to highlight the prosecution’s evidence against Bo or, as in the case of the affair, taint him with scandal.