Police chief Wang Lijun sought refuge at U.S. consulate in February
Move triggered China's biggest political scandal in decades
Worked with disgraced politician Bo Xilai in Chinese city of Chongqing
He has been charged with abuse of power and defection
The trigger of China’s biggest political scandal in a generation, Wang Lijun was once a feared police chief whose crime fighting exploits inspired a TV series.
He is now serving a 15-year prison sentence after being found guilty in September 2012 of abuse of power, defection and bribe taking.
Wang’s fall from grace began in early February of that year when he arrived at the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu in southwestern China in an apparent asylum attempt.
During a frenzied 24 hours, he reportedly revealed to U.S. officials a jaw-dropping tale of corruption and murder in the nearby municipality of Chongqing involving his boss and the city’s mayor, Bo Xilai.
Bo, a charismatic and popular leader, was a contender for a top position in the Communist Party.
Wang was later collected by central government authorities, and city officials said he had gone on medical leave following “immense mental stress.”
The dramatic events unleashed by Wang threatened to derail the once-in-a-decade leadership transition at the end of 18th Communist Party Congress.
However, before the November 2012 Congress, officials charged Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, and a family aide with “intentional homicide.” After a two-day trial in August of the same year, she was found guilty of murdering British businessman Neil Heywood, once a friend of the Bo family. Gu was given a suspended death sentence, the aide was sentenced to nine years in jail.
The following month Bo was expelled from the Communist Party and relieved of his duty. In July 2013, state media said he had been indicted for bribery, corruption and abuse of power.
Wang’s rise to prominence
Wang was born in a remote corner of Inner Mongolia and spent two years as a “rusticated youth” during the Cultural Revolution in the 1970s.
He first crossed paths with Bo in the northeastern province of Liaoning where he had worked his way up the region’s public security bureau and Bo was governor.
After Bo was promoted to the top job in Chongqing in 2007, Wang followed him and was assigned to lead his crime-fighting program.
Under Wang, the “da hei” (literally translated as “smash black”) campaign reportedly caught nearly 3,000 criminal groups and detained thousands of suspects. It also led to the execution of notorious figures in the city’s underworld.
The crackdown, along with economic reforms in the city of more than 30 million, helped burnish the political credentials of Bo, who aspired for a spot in the Party’s Standing Committee of the Politburo, a nine-member body that effectively rules China.
Allegations of torture
Wang’s heavy-handed, crime-busting methods were decried as brutal by critics.
At the height of the campaign, Beijing-based lawyer Li Zhuang defended an alleged gang member and discovered police torture during interrogation.
“For eight days and eight nights, my client was repeatedly hung from the ceiling,” Li recalled in an interview with CNN.
“He eventually soiled himself. His interrogators ordered him to remove the feces on the floor with his bare hands and use his shorts to wipe it clean. Then they hung him up naked.”
As he tried to expose the interrogators’ crimes, Li said, he was detained, tortured and promptly sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison under the direct order of Wang for “fabricating evidence and inciting witnesses.”
Wang was also known for his unconventional working style and according to the Chongqing Commercial News, once worked as a taxi driver to gauge public opinion on local security and police issues.
The most hated figure?
Wang’s two-day trial took place in Chengdu in September 2012.
He faced four charges – bending the law for selfish ends, defection, abuse of power and bribe taking.
Some observers said his15-year jail term appeared lenient given that bribe-taking can carry the death penalty in China, depending on the amount involved and the gravity of the case.
Prosecutors said that Wang knew that Gu was involved in the murder of Heywood but covered up for her.
They added that Wang used illegal surveillance measures, forged documents and accepted massive bribes to secure benefits for other individuals.
Political observers have said that Wang, not Bo, “is probably the most hated” figure in the eyes of the Beijing leadership for attempting to defect.
CNN’s Steven Jiang in Beijing contributed to this report