China's Wang Lijun: from supercop to traitor

Ex-police chief heart of major scandal jailed for 15 years

The jailing of Wang Lijun for 15 years Monday was the final tightly scripted act in the downfall of a police chief who always had a flair for theatre.

Once China's most revered crime fighter, Wang's exploits were the basis of a TV series called "Iron Blooded Police Spirits". But reality turned out to be more dramatic than the works of any playwright.

Until his spectacular flight to a US consulate, triggering a scandal that has seen one of China's most high-profile politicians sacked and his wife convicted of murdering a British businessman, Wang, 52, had commanded fear, even hatred, for his aggressive ways.

An ethnic Mongolian and martial arts expert, his steely, unsmiling gaze and thin glasses gave him the face of an incorruptible "supercop", and his body carried 20 scars from bullet and other wounds.

He learned his trade in the industrial northeastern province of Liaoning, starting as a patrolman in the 1980s and climbing up the hierarchy.

Zhou Lijun, the screenwriter behind Iron Blooded Police Spirits, wrote on his blog that Wang, dressed in a black coat, would fire a single gunshot into the air when confronting criminals.

He equipped his police car with rows of powerful lights so "even on a cold pitch-black night, people far away would know: chief officer Wang is here!" Zhou wrote.

Wang would pay solo visits to death row prisoners the night before they were executed, according to Zhou.

It was in Liaoning that he met Bo Xilai, a Communist "princeling" with powerful connections who went on to become the top party official in the megacity of Chongqing, and made Wang head of its police force.

Bo rose to national prominence courtesy of a Maoist revival and sky-high economic growth rates driven by state-funded investment, while Wang led a crackdown on organised crime.

His quota-driven crusade, which peaked in 2009, clocked up thousands of arrests but was marred by accusations of torture sessions and human rights violations.

Chinese newspapers were plastered with courtroom images from the anti-mafia trials, including one in which Wen Qiang, Chongqing's top judicial official, was sentenced to death and swiftly executed.

Wang was on hand at Chongqing airport -- along with a photographer to record the scene -- to witness Wen's arrest, and repeated the stunt with Li Zhuang, a Beijing lawyer who had defended an alleged Chongqing mafia boss.

Wang confronted Li at the airport, in front of dozens of police cars, their lights flashing, greeting him with the words "Li Zhuang, we meet again!" before taking him into custody, the lawyer said.

That case provoked uproar amongst China's legal community, and critics also noted Wang penchant for luxury watches and suits.

But his policeman's methods served him well when suspicions about Heywood's death began to mount.

Trained in forensics and able to carry out autopsies himself, Wang secretly recorded Bo's wife Gu Kailai when she confessed to poisoning Heywood, and took a sample of the victim's blood, according to official accounts.

Exactly what led Wang to confront Bo over Gu's actions -- a move that reportedly led the politician to strike the policeman in the face -- remains unclear.

But the sensitivity of the scandal -- which has exposed murder and double-crossing at the top levels of Chinese politics -- meant that Wang's trial last week was closely managed by the authorities.

China's communist party, keen to limit the potential fallout from the case, has settled on an official version of events which has played up a personal conflict between Wang and Gu, while omitting any direct mention of Bo.

An account of Wang's trial by the official news agency Xinhua said he initially agreed to cover up the murder, but changed his mind after Gu "turned hostile" towards him.

Others speculate that Wang's escape to the consulate was aimed not so much at gaining asylum, but at ensuring he would be dealt with by China's central government, protecting himself from the Chongqing machine controlled by Bo.

But President Hu Jintao himself branded Wang a traitor at a meeting of senior Communist party officials, according to Chinese media reports.

Whatever happened, the "iron blooded police chief" long ago anticipated his career would be cut short at the whim of the politicians he served, according to Zhou, the screenwriter who interviewed him several times in the late 1990s.

"Its clear to me that I'm just a piece of chewing gum in the mouths of government officials," Zhou quoted Wang as saying.

"Once they've chewed me until I've lost my taste, I'll be spat onto the ground, and who knows whose shoe I'll end up sticking to."

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