Authorities in the southwestern province of Sichuan have formally charged Wang Lijun, a once-powerful police chief linked to a former rising star in the ruling Chinese Communist Party, with defection and abuse of official power, state media reported.
Wang, Chongqing's former vice mayor and police chief, was charged with "bending the law for selfish ends, defection, abuse of power, and bribe-taking" by state prosecutors in the provincial capital, Chengdu, the official Xinhua news agency reported, citing official sources.
The Chengdu municipal procuratorate body filed the charges against Wang with the Chengdu Intermediate People's Court "recently," the agency said.
"During the investigation period, the prosecuting body informed [Wang] of his right to retain defense counsel," the report said.
"[It] also interrogated the defendant, heard the opinions of the defense counsel, and examined all the case files."
Bo Xilai scandal
The indictment document accuses Wang of serious dereliction of duty for not pursuing an investigation into the wife of his boss, then Chongqing Party secretary Bo Xilai, 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.
"Although the defendant Wang Lijun ... had known beforehand that [Gu] Kailai was under serious suspicion of murdering Neil Heywood, he consciously neglected his duty and bent the law for personal gain," Xinhua said.
"Wang was indicted for the crime of bending the law for personal gain," it said.
Also on the charge sheet was the crime of "defection," linked to his visit to the U.S. Consulate, the agency reported.
"Wang, while he was performing his official duty, left his post without authorization and defected to the United States Consulate General in Chengdu," Xinhua quoted Chengdu prosecuting as saying.
Analysts said the defection charge was meant to be a warning to Chinese officials.
"Among [the charges], the most serious one is defection." said Canada-based political analyst and veteran journalist Jiang Weiping. "Defection is the dramatic climax of all his criminal activities."
“By punishing Wang on this defection charge, the Chinese authorities want to warn all other officials who might mull repeating what Wang did.”
Jiang believes Wang might get a heavy jail term.
“By charging him for four offenses, the authorities will not let Wang go easily. He might receive severe sentences.”
Defection and treason
But Hong Kong-based legal scholar Wang Youjin said the defection charges were "much lighter" than the charges of "treason" widely expected by analysts.
"The charge of treason carries the death penalty, while defection is less serious," he said. "The maximum penalty is 15 years' imprisonment."
"I would guess that Wang Lijun is likely to get no more than 10 years," he said.
Prominent Beijing-based lawyer Zhang Xingshui, an expert on the Chinese criminal code, said that sentencing Wang is a "tough test" for the Chinese judiciary system.
“On all charges Wang faces, including defection to the American diplomatic mission, the court has to proceed exactly according to the law. It should never be based on any other thinking,” Zhang said.
The powerful Bo was sacked on March 15, and is currently under investigation for unspecified "disciplinary violations."
No official announcements have yet been made about his fate, although analysts say the Party leadership will want to finish the job of laying to rest the biggest political scandal in decades ahead of the Party Congress, for which no date has been announced yet.
And in a fresh embarrassment for the outgoing leadership of President Hu Jintao, a key political aide of the president has been sidelined in the Party hierarchy after his son was identified as the driver in a fatal, but mysterious, crash of a Ferrari sports car.
The Beijing Ferrari crash also happened in March, but was censored from mainstream and social media by the authorities.
Ling Jihua, the head of the general office that oversees security for the country’s top leaders, was replaced with Li Zhanshu, a close ally of vice-president Xi Jinping, who is forecast to take over from Hu as Party chief.
Reported by He Ping of RFA's Mandarin service and Hailan of the Cantonese service. Translated by Luisetta Mudie and Ping Chen. Written in English by Luisetta Mudie.