The detained Politburo member Bo Xilai may face criminal charges after his wife informed on “the crimes of others” in order to soften her own murder sentence.
The sensational proceedings in court today will further animate what is already a fraught leadership transition, scheduled to begin later this year.
Lawyers for Bo's wife, Gu Kailai, and her family retainer Zhang Xiaojun, today accepted the prosecution's case that she murdered a British friend, Neil Heywood.
The defence lawyers accepted lurid details of how Gu, with Zhang as an accomplice, lured Heywood from Beijing to a hotel in the Chongqing hills where they personally poured poison into his mouth.
“Gu Kailai and Zhang Xiaojun did not offer any objections to the charges of intentional homicide,” said the vice president of the Hefei Intermediate People's Court, Tang Yigan, in a press conference tonight.
And Mr Tang revealed the potentially explosive information that Gu was seeking a lighter sentence in return for providing evidence against unnamed others.
“Gu Kailai's lawyer said the defendant was exemplary in informing on the crimes of others,” he said in a prepared statement after the case.
Bo Xilai has been detained at an unknown location for unspecified “serious” violations of party discipline.
His detention in March followed sensational testimony from his former police chief – given to both American diplomats and Chinese officials – that he was implicated in financial crimes and had obstructed the investigation into the Heywood murder.
Mr Tang's two-page statement said Gu was the leader in killing Heywood, and Zhang an accomplice.
But it devoted substantial space to detail Gu and Zhang's plea for leniency, citing their lawyers' claim that Gu was motivated to defend the “personal safety” of her son, Bo Guagua, after an economic dispute; that Heywood was partially responsible for his own murder, and that she had diminished personal control at the time of the murder.
The pair met Heywood in room 1605 of their Chongqing hotel and proceeded to ply Heywood with alcohol and tea, said Mr Tang.
Heywood vomited and requested water, at which time Zhang took the opportunity to provide Gu with the pre-prepared poison, he said.
“She poured prepared poison into Heywood's mouth, causing his death,” said Mr Tang.
The trial, which began and finished today, was efficient even by the standards of Gu, herself a lawyer, who once wrote of the superiority of the Chinese criminal justice system.
Gu and Zhang are certain to be convicted but appear likely to avoid death sentences.
Mr Tang said the verdict and sentences would be handed down at a later date.
The case appears to open the door to Bo facing economic or abuse of power charges.
Bo's downfall has intensified the factional, ideological and personal jockeying ahead of the 18th Party Congress later this year.
Mr Bo forged vast networks within the party, particularly among fellow “princeling” children of revolutionary leaders, and remains as popular among large sections of ordinary people as he is reviled by many lawyers and liberal intellectuals.
Today two protestors were detained outside the Hefei court in eastern Anhui province after telling foreign reporters that both Bo and Gu had been framed.
Bo had seemed likely to rise close to the summit of Chinese politics when he was toppled by an improbable series of events, beginning with his wife murdering his close associate Heywood in November.
News did not leak from Chongqing until February, when Bo's former police chief and right-hand man, Wang Lijun, fled to a US consulate with evidence reportedly including a slice of Heywood's heart.
The spokesman tonight said "physical" evidence had been presented in court.
In March, Bo gave a defiant press conference, where he warned against going down "the capitalist road", which prompted Premier Wen Jiabao to respond with warnings about a repeat of the orchestrated chaos of the Cultural Revolution.
Bo was sacked from his position in charge of Chongqing municipality the following day and then "suspended" from his Politburo position in April, but no new official information about Bo's position has been released since.