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Chinese court commutes death penalty for businessman’s murder

A Chinese court has given a commuted death sentence to the wife of disgraced politician Bo Xilai for murdering a British businessman. Gu Kailai faces a life sentence, provided she commits no further offences.

Although the sentencing on Monday was closed to foreign reporters, He Zhengsheng - a lawyer representing the family of murdered businessman Neil Heywood - said Gu had been given a commuted death sentence.

"We respect the court's decision," said He, whose account of the hearing was confirmed by another witness.

Both told reporters that Zhang Xiaojun, an aide to the Bo household, was sentenced to nine years in prison for having acted as an accomplice.

Gu admitted in court earlier this month that she had poisoned Heywood last November, after a business dispute which she said had caused him to threaten her son.

The sentencing comes ahead of the announcement of a formal punishment for Bo himself.

He is accused of alleged violations of party discipline, a charge that covers corruption, abuse of power and other misdeeds.

The murder scandal led to the end of Bo's political career and he could also face charges in relation to the murder.

The case came to light when Bo's former police chief, Wang Lijun, fled to a US consulate in early February and revealed details of the murder allegations.

Bo had been seen as a contender for a place in China's next Communist Party leadership, set to be announced later this year.

rc/av (AFP, dpa Reuters)