Updated at 5:20 p.m. EST on 2012-09-17
Authorities in the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan began the closed-doors trial on Monday of a former Chongqing police chief linked to fallen political star Bo Xilai.
In a surprise move a day ahead of the previously announced trial date, the Chengdu Intermediate People's Court began the trial of former Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun, in a closed hearing involving state secrets.
The hearing began at 8:30 a.m. local time and examined the charges of defection and abuse of power, according to Wang's defense lawyer Wang Yuncai.
"It was closed according to Chinese law because it involves state secrets," Wang Yuncai told Reuters.
Repeated calls to the court's listed numbers went unanswered during office hours on Monday.
Wang Lijun, Chongqing's once-powerful police chief and right-hand man to Bo, was charged earlier this month with defection and abuse of official power by state prosecutors in the provincial capital, Chengdu, official media reported.
He is charged with "bending the law for selfish ends, defection, abuse of power, and bribe-taking," according to a Xinhua news agency report earlier this month.
Dereliction of duty
The indictment document accuses Wang of serious dereliction of duty for not pursuing an investigation into the wife of his boss, whose removal from office was triggered by Wang's Feb. 6 visit to the U.S. consulate in Chengdu.
Wang is believed to have told U.S. officials that Bo's wife Gu Kailai had murdered a British businessman.
Gu was handed a suspended death sentence by a court in Anhui province last month for the "intentional homicide" of businessman Neil Heywood, who was found dead in a Chongqing hotel room last November.
Bo was widely regarded as a possible candidate for a post on China's all-powerful Politburo standing committee at a crucial leadership transition later this year, until the scandal surrounding Heywood's death emerged, apparently ending his political career.
Beijing-based lawyer Mo Shaoping said that it was common practice for Chinese courts to hold closed trials in cases where "state secrets" were involved.
In this case, the secrets could reveal key details about the fate of Bo Xilai himself, who was sacked on March 15, and is currently under investigation for unspecified "disciplinary violations." No official announcements have yet been made about his fate.
"Personally, I think that they won't sentence Wang Lijun to death; at the very most, he'll get a life sentence," Mo said, adding that the most sensitive charges discussed at the trial would likely be the charge of "defection."
"What were the factors that pushed him to defect?" Mo said. "And what did he tell the officials at the U.S. Consulate about Bo Xilai?"
No mention of Bo
Mo said another sensitive area was suggested by the charges linked to Wang's alleged "misuse of official power."
"[This could refer to the allegations that] he listened in on the private conversations of some of the central leadership," he said. "So far, there has been no mention of Bo Xilai in any of the official media reports, so that's probably why some of this trial is being held in secret."
The Chinese authorities appear keen to wrap up the Bo-related cases ahead of a once-in-a-decade leadership transition at the forthcoming 18th Party Congress of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, and, according to Mo, also appear to be at pains to separate the cases of Gu and Wang from that of Bo, so as to minimize political fallout from the scandal.
"China isn't a country where you have judicial independence, of course not," Mo said. "The international community and legal professionals inside China all recognize that fact."
"At any point in the judicial process they could have taken the decision to ignore the implication of Bo in either Wang Lijun's defection or his misuse of official power," he said. "I think the fact that there is no mention of Bo Xilai in the [charge sheet] for Wang Lijun shows that this is their deliberate intention."
Canada-based veteran journalist and political analyst Jiang Weiping said that any separation between the cases was entirely artificial.
"Really, it's all the same case, although it's composed of different elements," Jiang said. "This was a murderous and corrupt cartel."
"Bo Xilai held high office and broke the law, so according to Party discipline, he should undergo a legal process."
Jiang said the secrecy around Wang's trial showed there were still things that the Party didn't wish people to know.
"The Gu Kailai case and the Wang Lijun case have paved the way for the case of Bo Xilai," he said. "I think Bo probably won't escape now."
Before his visit to the U.S. consulate brought events in Chongqing into public awareness, Wang was seen and feted as a determined "supercop," even starring in a TV documentary.
Wang's high-profile anti-crime campaigns clocked up thousands of arrests, and sparked widespread accusations of torture sessions and other human rights violations.
Earlier this month China's leadership was rocked once again by rumors of a political scandal; this time, that the demotion of Ling Jihua, a top Party official and ally of outgoing President Hu Jintao, came after the alleged death of his son in March in a Ferrari crash involving two women.
Reported by He Ping for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.