BEIJING – A former police chief whose flight to a U.S. consulate set off Chinas biggest political scandal in years has been charged with crimes including defection and bribe taking, possibly indicating the turbulent affair is moving closer to a resolution before a key national leadership transition this fall.
Wednesday evenings announcement by state media of the charges against Wang Lijun came hours before U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton ended a brief visit to Beijing.
The announcement was likely timed to convey to Washington that Chinas government is in full control and would strongly object to any foreign involvement in its internal politics.
Wang, the former police chief and vice mayor of the southwestern city of Chongqing, was also charged with bending the law for selfish ends and abuse of power, the official Xinhua News Agency said.
Wang set off the scandal by fleeing to the U.S. consulate in the nearby city of Chengdu in early February after being summarily demoted by the citys powerful Communist Party boss, Bo Xilai. Xinhua said the charges were brought by prosecutors in Chengdu, indicating that is where the trial will be held.
During his overnight stay at the U.S. consulate, Wang expressed to the Americans his concerns about the death of British businessman Neil Heywood in Chongqing last November. That prompted the British embassy to request a new investigation, which uncovered that he had been murdered.
The case resulted in Bos dismissal in March and the conviction last month of Bos wife, Gu Kailai, for poisoning Heywood, who was a former family associate with whom Gu had reportedly feuded about money.
Gu was given a suspended death sentence while Bo remains under investigation by the ruling partys disciplinary branch for unspecified grave violations of discipline.
Although he faces years in prison, Wang avoided the more serious charge of treason. Unconfirmed reports said he had cooperated closely with investigators after leaving the consulate accompanied by agents from Chinas main intelligence agency, the Ministry of State Security.
It wasnt the first incident this year to ruffle U.S.-Chinese relations. In April, blind activist Chen Guangcheng escaped house arrest and fled to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, prompting a tense two weeks that ended when China allowed Chen to travel to the U.S. to study.