BEIJING -- Former Mafia-busting police chief Wang Lijun faces 15 years behind bars after the second major criminal case in China's biggest political scandal in years concluded today.
But the guilty verdict left the public and analysts guessing if the scandal's central figure, disgraced former leader Bo Xilai, will himself face trial.
A court in Chengdu convicted Wang for "bending the law for selfish ends, defection, abuse of power and bribe-taking," the state-run news agency reported. The relatively lenient sentence may reflect Wang's cooperation with prosecutors in the case of Bo's wife, Gu Kailai, who was given an effective life sentence after being found guilty last month of killing a British businessman.
Wang, 52, had not denied the charges, which centered on his role in protecting the Bo family, including covering up the murder. Bo was a prominent politician who sought elevation to the ruling Communist Party's top leadership body at a once-a-decade transition expected this fall.
"The big question in all of this is what will happen to Bo, and no one has a clue," said Kerry Brown, a China politics expert at the University of Sydney. "Despite the surface changes, this (scandal) shows that deep down China is still run by a very small network of powerful people, who can act without restraint," he said.
The scandal broke in February after Wang, police chief in the huge southwest city of Chongqing, fell out with Bo, then the city's Communist Party boss. The pair had made national headlines with their crackdown on crime gangs.
After Wang told Bo in January that his wife was a suspect in the Nov. 15, 2011, poisoning of businessman Neil Heywood, Bo "angrily rebuked and slapped" him, according to the government's first detailed account, released by Xinhua News Agency last week.
Wang was demoted to vice mayor, and in apparent fear for his life, fled Chongqing to seek asylum at the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu.
Wang later left the consulate with Chinese security officials who took him to Beijing.
Bo lost his party posts and remains under internal investigation by the party, with no indication of whether he will also face criminal charges.
Despite the best efforts of Chinese government censors, the scandal, widely discussed on restricted yet booming micro-blogs, has offered a rare look inside the usually closed world of China's elite politics.
Some analysts blame the continuing questions about Bo for the delay in announcing the date of the 18th Party Congress that had been expected in mid-October.
"This (scandal) shows that deep down China is still run by a very small network."