Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Wang Lijun: Chinese cop at the heart of Bo Xilai scandal

By Katie Hunt, for CNN
August 19, 2013 -- Updated 0455 GMT (1255 HKT)
A file image of Wang Lijun at the National People's Congress in Beijing.
A file image of Wang Lijun at the National People's Congress in Beijing.
  • 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

Hong Kong (CNN) -- 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.

China's Jackie O Stands By Her Man
Will scandal bring change to China?
What does Bo scandal mean for China?

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.

Timeline: Bo Xilai's fall from grace

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

Part of complete coverage on
Bo Xilai scandal
September 22, 2013 -- Updated 1950 GMT (0350 HKT)
Political science professor Yuhua Wang says he's surprised by the severity of the life sentence given to Chinese politician Bo Xilai.
September 23, 2013 -- Updated 0611 GMT (1411 HKT)
A charismatic politician, Bo Xilai is said to have made high-profile enemies after launching a crackdown on law and order in Chongqing.
September 23, 2013 -- Updated 0546 GMT (1346 HKT)
In a letter to his family, the disgraced Communist Party leader reiterated his innocence but said he expected a lengthy prison sentence.
August 28, 2013 -- Updated 1124 GMT (1924 HKT)
CNN Beijing bureau chief Jaime Florcruz compares his experience covering Bo's trial with a similarly explosive story in the early 1980s -- the "Gang of Four" trial.
August 27, 2013 -- Updated 1328 GMT (2128 HKT)
While Chinese state media hailed the Bo Xilai trial as a show of "historic transparency," analysts saw its theatrics as part of a high-profile show trial.
October 25, 2013 -- Updated 0829 GMT (1629 HKT)
How did the story of one of China's powerhouse political couples descend into a veritable soap opera of sex, lies, murder, and corruption?
August 27, 2013 -- Updated 1056 GMT (1856 HKT)
The trial of Bo Xilai concluded with claims from Bo that his former police chief had a crush on his wife, Gu Kailai, who is serving time for murder.
August 26, 2013 -- Updated 0634 GMT (1434 HKT)
Few political trials can boast the intoxicating mix of sex, murder and exotic meat but Bo Xilai's trial did just that.
August 19, 2013 -- Updated 0455 GMT (1255 HKT)
The wife of a high-profile Chinese politician found guilty of murder has been described as funny, personable, attractive and charismatic.
August 19, 2013 -- Updated 0455 GMT (1255 HKT)
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.
April 23, 2012 -- Updated 0322 GMT (1122 HKT)
A run-down hotel on the outskirts of Chongqing is the unlikely setting for a murder mystery. CNN's Stan Grant looks inside.