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Friday, 10 August 2012

Gu Kailai: High flying lawyer turned murder accused

As a high-flying international lawyer married to one of China's most promising and charismatic politicians and with a son at Harvard, Gu Kailai appeared to have it all. Now she is on trial for murder.

China Official's Wife Doesn't Deny Killing Briton
This frame grab taken from CCTV video shows Gu Kailai, the wife of Chinese politician Bo Xilai, facing the court during her murder trial in Hefei, Aug. 9, 2012. (CCTV/AFP/Getty Images/Newscom)

As a high-flying international lawyer married to one of China's most promising and charismatic politicians and with a son at Harvard, Gu Kailai appeared to have it all. Now she is on trial for murder.
Since her detention earlier this year on suspicion of poisoning a British businessman a new picture has emerged of an at times volatile woman with a troubled childhood and a reported history of depression.
The daughter of a renowned general, Gu, like her husband Bo Xilai, is a so-called princeling -- an elite group in Communist China whose family background has given them influence and privilege not enjoyed by most.
Like Bo, she studied at the prestigious Peking University, although the pair did not meet until 1984, while she was on a research trip near the eastern city of Dalian, where he had taken a post as a local party secretary.
"He was very much like my father, that sort of extremely idealistic person," Gu, 53, told the Southern Weekend, a local weekly, in an interview published in 2009, recalling her first encounter with Bo.
"He lived in a small dirty room. He offered me an apple before telling me about his ideas."
They married two years later and in 1987 had a son, Bo Guagua, who attended one of Britain's most prestigious private schools, Harrow, followed by Oxford University and a postgraduate degree at Harvard.
She began work as a lawyer the same year the boy was born, later setting up her own firm and winning plaudits as the first Chinese attorney to successfully challenge a legal decision in US courts -- an experience she recounted in two books that became bestsellers in her home country.
Ed Byrne, an American lawyer who worked with Gu, recalled her as "smart, charismatic, attractive". "I was very impressed with her," he said in a television interview.
As her husband's political career took off, Gu gave up the law, a sacrifice to which Bo paid tribute at a press conference in March that was to prove one of his last appearances before the couple vanished from public view in April.
He described her as a stay-at-home mother who had given up a promising career to take care of her family, and hit out at allegations -- which at that stage were not yet public -- that he said had been made against her.
Details that have emerged in recent months of Gu's life with Bo, however, suggest that his portrayal of a humble housewife was far from the reality.
She is reported to have spent several years in Britain while her son was at school there -- a place arranged by Neil Heywood, the 41-year-old Briton she is charged with murdering after their business relationship went sour.
While in Britain, she stayed at the most expensive hotels and enjoyed access to a private jet owned by a billionaire friend, according to sources quoted in the New York Times.
Such privilege will have offered scant preparation for a life in jail -- experts in the Chinese legal system say she is likely to be sentenced to around 15 years -- although Gu's life had not always been so comfortable.
During the Cultural Revolution her parents were detained and her four sisters sent to the countryside for re-education, forcing her to drop out of school and scrape a living variously as a construction worker, a butcher and a lute player.
State news agency Xinhua has said the evidence against Gu and her co-accused, a family aide, is "irrefutable" and suggested she was acting to protect her son from unidentified threats by Heywood.
This has been seen as a possible mitigating factor in her sentencing, along with the bouts of depression that she reportedly suffered in recent years.

Source: AFP

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