China releases video of ousted politician's wife

China uses taped testimony of ousted politician's imprisoned wife in corruption trial

Associated Press
China releases video of ousted politician's wife
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Journalists watch an online pre-recorded testimony by Gu Kailai, wife of former Chinese politician Bo Xilai before a press conference held at a hotel near the Jinan Intermediate People's Court in Jinan, eastern China's Shandong province on Friday, Aug. 23, 2013. Bo is accused of corruption and interference in the investigation of his wife's murder of a British businessman. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

JINAN, China (AP) -- Prosecutors in the trial of disgraced politician Bo Xilai on Friday used his own wife to bolster bribery allegations against him, presenting videotaped testimony in which she says a businessman gave their family gifts including a French villa, airline tickets and a Segway scooter.

Bo's wife, Gu Kailai, set off the scandal that ruined Bo's career by murdering a British businessman. Among other allegations in China's messiest political scandal in decades, Bo is accused of interfering with the investigation.

He sought to discredit his wife even before the video was shown in Jinan Intermediate People's Court. On Thursday, when his trial began, he questioned his wife's credibility and mental health while fiercely denying that he took $3.5 million in bribes from two businessmen, one of whom he described as a "mad dog" trying to earn credit with authorities.

The trial is a balancing act for Chinese leaders, who want to show they are serious about fighting graft without encouraging complaints that such abuses are widespread under one-party rule. The trial is widely believed to have a conviction as its predetermined outcome, but Bo, the former Communist Party boss of the megacity of Chongqing, has launched an unexpectedly spirited defense.

The statement from Gu was videotaped on Aug. 10. Before it was presented, there had been no publicly released word from her since she was convicted of murder in August of last year.

In the video, she said a businessman accused of bribing Bo was a family friend who did many favors for them in exchange for her husband's help. The businessman, Xu Ming, is from the northeastern city of Dalian, where Bo was once a top official.

Gu said Xu gave the family a villa in Nice, France, often paid for their international air tickets and gave them gifts that included expensive seafood. She said her son received a Segway — an electric standup scooter — from Xu, and that Bo had been aware of the gifts.

"Xu Ming is our old and longtime friend," Gu is seen telling her questioner, who identified herself as someone from the Supreme People's Procuratorate, the country's top prosecutor's office. "We had a very good impression of him and believed he was honest and kind, so we trusted him a lot."

Gu is seen seated at a table in a black-and-white striped shirt in the video, posted on the Jinan court's microblog. The microblog and court transcripts have provided a rare but possibly incomplete window into the proceedings for the public and for foreign media, which have been barred from the courtroom.

Gu, who confessed to killing businessman Neil Heywood by poisoning him with cyanide, received a suspended death sentence that may be reduced to life in prison.

Bo is accused of corruption and of interference in the investigation of Heywood's 2011 murder. Prosecutors on Thursday ended months of suspense about details of the bribery charges against him, rolling out accusations that featured the French villa, a hot-air balloon project and a football club, illustrating how colorful corruption can be in China. The trial was delving further into the bribery allegations Friday before moving on to charges of embezzlement of government funds and abuse of office.

The Communist Party hopes the trial will show that it's serious about cracking down on widespread corruption in a transparent way, despite what is widely believed to be a predetermined conclusion of guilt. Its openness in releasing transcripts of the proceedings underscores its confidence it can weather any damage to its reputation from a case that exposed the illicit machinations of an elite family in China's communist establishment.

Bo's defense on Thursday focused on challenging prosecutors' evidence that he provided political favors to the two businessmen. He said he barely knew the men and that he was ignorant of the favors they were providing his wife and son.

Gu spoke softly in the video but appeared healthy and at ease. Asked by her questioner if the interview had been conducted with any "illegal, violent, threatening or dishonest means," she smiled and with a chuckle replied: "No."

Prosecutors also presented written statements by Gu and others about the French villa that Xu allegedly bought for Bo's family. It was worth $3 million in 2000.

Gu detailed how she and some associates hatched a plan to set up a property company to buy the villa to evade taxes and hide the family's ownership. Gu said the villa was to be refurbished and rented out as an investment to ensure a steady income for her son, Bo Guagua.

"This idea received Bo Xilai's support," she said.

She said her husband also viewed a slideshow of the renovations on her computer, telling her she was "an artist with real talent." She said she also told Bo in 2002 that she "allowed" Xu to buy the property for her, and that she reassured Bo later when he asked if it was safe for Xu to do so.

Also Friday, prosecutors released more details about a family dispute that preceded Heywood's murder.

In a statement, a French architect named Patrick Devillers recounted a 2011 phone conversation in which Heywood was furious about 1.4 million British pounds in "remuneration" he said Gu owed him. Devillers said Heywood threatened that if his demands were not met, "everything will be exposed," according to the transcript.

Gu described how Bo Guagua told her that Heywood had threatened him, and how she became worried that her son would be killed as part of a kidnapping plot.

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Associated Press writer Christopher Bodeen in Beijing contributed to this report.

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