Wang Lijun, the former deputy mayor and police chief of Chongqing, is heading for trial.
Wang was a confidant and close ally of Bo Xilai, the disgraced former party chief of southwestern China's 28-million strong mega-municipality who was also an ex-Politburo member and onetime aspirant to the Standing Committee, China's leading oligarchy.
China's official Xinhua News revealed on Wednesday that Wang is being charged on four major issues: "bending the law for selfish ends, defection, abuse of power and bribe-taking." Wang is being prosecuted by the Chengdu City People's Procuratorate (procuratorates in China are responsible for criminal investigation and prosecution) and his case will be heard before the Intermediate People's Court of Chengdu.
Indeed, it was Wang's shocking defection to the American consulate in Chengdu in early February, just days after his removal as Chongqing's chief of police, that first sparked off public knowledge of the Bo Xilai political scandal.
Information released by Wang to Chinese investigators following his departure from the U.S. consulate (which news reports in China claimed was voluntary) was suspected of being a lead cause in the opening of investigations into Bo's own political abuses in Chongqing, as well as his wife's murder of a foreign national.
Bo's wife, Gu Kailai, was recently tried and sentenced to death with reprieve for the murder of Neil Heywood, a British citizen with business ties to the family. Gu's suspended death sentence is thought to be adjustable to life imprisonment, and she could be released within a decade on medical parole. Her plea in court, which included descriptions of Heywood's threats against her son, may have helped soften her sentence.
Whether Wang will receive any special considerations for playing a part in disclosing information on Bo and Gu remains highly speculative. However, the tone of official statements on his trial reveal that a harsher stance may be taken.
Chinese investigators say that Wang's "bending of the law" stems from his initial knowledge and protection of Gu Kailai in her murder of Neil Heywood. Xinhua noted that "he consciously neglected his duty and bent the law for personal gain so that Bogu Kailai [how Gu has been referred to in official news] would not be held legally responsible."
Most states around the world consider treason a major crime punishable by life imprisonment or death. Xinhua noted that in Wang's case, "while he was performing his official duty, left his post without authorization and defected to the United States Consulate General in Chengdu." Wang's stay within the consulate, which lasted for nearly 24 hours, was a humiliating incident for the Party, and got international coverage.
Critics of Bo's tenure in Chongqing have pointed to a number of oppressive and illegal measures used by his allies to target political opponents, under the auspices of a campaign to strike against organized crime in the city. Xinhua added that prosecutors claim Wang illegally "used technical reconnaissance measures, either without the approval of authorities or by forging approval documents." That may refer to wiretapping measures and the collection of information on Bo's political opponents. Rumors in China say such tools may have been used by Bo against national-level politicians belonging to rival factions, including other high-ranking party members.
Wang is also being charged with receiving large bribes while serving in his official positions in Chongqing.
It remains unknown when the Wang trial will be held, but the release of information in state-owned media is an indication that it may occur soon. Wang's trial will set the stage for the legal resolution of Bo's own transgressions.
China watchers doubt that either trial would take place during any major political transition in China, when the Party will value order and stability. The Communist Party elite is expected to select the country's new Standing Committee late this year, originally in October or November, but no firm date has yet been given for when the 18th Party Congress will be held to announce the decision.
The resolution of Wang and in turn Bo's own trial may set the pace for when those larger political developments would occur.