RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
The trial of the former police chief who ignited the worst political scandal in China in decades wrapped up today. Wang Lijun is accused of trying to defect to the U.S. and covering up a murder involving the wife of a one-time powerful Communist Party official. NPR's Frank Langfitt has been following the trial from Shanghai.
And first, Frank, remind us what this case is all about.
FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Sure. Well, Wang Lijun, back in February, he actually hid out in the American consulate in Chengdu, which is in southwestern China. And he had a falling out, apparently, with Bo Xilai. That's the big Communist Party official you were just mentioning. And apparently when he was talking to U.S. diplomats, he told them that Bo's wife actually had killed a British businessman.
Now, there had been big concerns about lawlessness in Chongqing, that was the place that Bo ran in southwestern China. But this really forced the Communist Party to address the problems there. And it led to them, actually, to fire Bo Xilai. Bo was trying to get into the top leadership of the party later this fall. So it had, sort of, the political implications for the country.
MONTAGNE: Now, this trial lasted less than two days. Is there a verdict?
LANGFITT: Not yet. We expect one, probably, in the coming days. These usually come pretty quickly. He is expected to be convicted. Most anybody who goes into a Chinese court, generally, on a criminal trial, ends up getting convicted.
There's some new allegations this time around. Apparently there's prosecutors are saying Wang Lijun took nearly half a million dollars in bribes - not entirely surprising, because corruption is rampant here - and illegally wiretapped people. Now, Wang didn't contest any of these allegations and some of the charges are pretty serious. Defection can get you five to 10 years here, maybe even more in some circumstances.
But the prosecutors also said that he cooperated in investigating this murder, after trying to cover it up. And he also surrendered after his defection attempt. Clearly Wang cut a deal with prosecutors. There was even talk of prosecutors, of some sort of may be lighter sentence. And certainly, he's not expected to get death.
MONTAGNE: Now, this trial is part of this larger sort of shocking scandal. But what is the political significance of this particular man at this time?
LANGFITT: Well, this case was a huge embarrassment to the Communist Party. I mean, let's face it, a very well known - he was nationally known cop in China. He gets in trouble. What does he do? He goes to the American consulate for protection, essentially. The wife of a party leader apparently thought she could get away with murder. And so, what they want to do this kind of fix all this before there's a big leadership change later this fall.
There's some suggestion, it seems, in the prosecutors' notes, that Wang might have helped on some other cases; possibly the one involving Bo Xilai. Now, Bo Xilai had a lot of enemies in the leadership. He's a brash, charismatic guy, had been pressing for some sort of return to socialism, which I think other leaders found threatening. And it's possible that Wang may have given them some information that will help them in dealing with Bo Xilai.
The next step now, is a verdict on Mr. Wang and then the party disciplinary process is going to determine Mr. Bo's fate.
MONTAGNE: And, Frank, what does this case tell us about politics and the rule of law in China?
LANGFITT: Well, this case involving the former Police Chief Wang, really shows, frankly, how little rule of law there is here. Think about it. The wife of Bo Xilai, this very powerful Communist Party leader, actually thought she could get away with murder. And initially she was getting away with it. Apparently Police Chief Wang was helping her out. And it was only, actually, when he apparently had a falling out with Bo Xilai, when he ran to the consulate, that this became very public.
You know, if that hadn't happened we wouldn't even be talking about this. It would still be a secret.
MONTAGNE: And, of course, the story made headlines around the world. We've heard about it here in America. How closely they'll have ordinary Chinese followed the case?
LANGFITT: Not that closely. You know, the Communist Party still has tremendous control over the media here. There's been little coverage in the state press. Mr. Wang's name has been blocked on the Chinese version of Twitter. I mean the timing of the trial was really very clever. The trial closed. As Louisa mentioned, there are big protest today against the Japanese.
And I was out in Shanghai today in front of the Japanese consulate, people were chanting: Down with Japan. They were waving Chinese flags. Frankly, nobody was talking about this case.
MONTAGNE: Thanks, Frank. That's NPR's Frank Langfitt in Shanghai, who has been following the case of a former police chief in China.
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