On Thursday, state news agency Xinhua announced that Gu Kailai, wife of disgraced and purged ex-Chongqing party chief and Politburo member, Bo Xilai -- once thought to be a close contender for a spot on the country's new nine-seat oligarchy -- had been formally charged with murder.
Her alleged victim, Neil Heywood, a 41-year-old British citizen with a long history of dealings with the family, was found dead from authorities intiially called "alcohol poisoning" in November of 2011. Details that may have been revealed by Wang Lijun, a former Bo confidant, police chief, and deputy mayor of Chongqing to both Chinese authorities and the American consulate in Chengdu later reopened investigations into Heywood's death, putting blame squarely on Bo's family.
In newly revealed information, Xinhua noted that Gu may have committed the homicide out of concern for the safety of her son Bo Guagua, who was threatened by Heywood. That gives the case a coloring of motherly affection, albeit with a grisly outcome.
It is still unknown when local prosecutors in the Hefei Municipal Procuratorate arrived at the decision that Gu was guilty of murder, though Xinhua said it had taken place within recent days.
Gu and a family assistant, Zhang Xiaojun, were both charged in the murder; it is thought the latter helped Gu carry out the crime.
Xinhua said that evidence presented to the Hefei court had been "irrefutable and substantial."
Murder is punishable by death in China, though it had not been revealed whether Gu and Zhang risked capital punishment.
The fact that Gu's name was presented as "Bogu Kailai" in official media hinted that the government wanted the case closely associated with Bo Xilai. However, a ruling on the former political heavyweight has yet to be delivered. Whether he would be directly implicated in the Heywood case, or charged with different crimes remains largely speculative.
Political analysts think the incident has served as an opportunity for top echelons of the party to remove Bo, seen as a threat and representing what they considered dangerously reactionary ideological and policy tendencies. Past reports on the scandal have linked him to corruption and abuse of power.
The resolution of the Bo Xilai case would be a major housecleaning for the Communist Party and set the stage for its major 18th Party Congress to be held later this year, during which top party members will vote to select the next group of leaders and replace the nine men which currently preside over party, government, and security organs.
Joseph Fewsmith, a professor and Boston University and longtime China watcher, said that "This was expected. There was a desire on the part of the CCP (Chinese communist party) to get this case settled -- it's not yet, but it is out of the party and into the hands of criminal courts -- well before the 18th party Congress. We should expect a resolution of the Bo Xilai case within the next couple weeks."