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Inside China: Aide to consulate defector charged

- - Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Wang Pengfei, the right-hand man of Wang Lijun, the former Chongqing police chief whose attempted defection to the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu in February triggered China's biggest political storm in several decades, was officially charged recently with dereliction of duty and corruption.

Wang Pengfei worked as senior aide to the organized-crime investigator and was chief of Chongqing's Criminal Forensics and Police Technologies and the chief of police for the Yubei district. That's the district where British businessman Neil Heywood was found dead in November. The wife of a former top Communist Party leader is charged with murder in his death.

Wang Lijun made a daring escape attempt to the consulate in February, and eventually was turned away and given over to the Ministry of State Security. He has not been seen since his 30-hour consulate visit ended.

The dereliction of duty charge against Wang Pengfei is unusual because he was in charge of police forensics and likely handled Heywood's autopsy and efforts to trace the poison that killed him.

Widespread reports from China state that Gu Kailai, wife of Chongqing Party viceroy Bo Xilai, a powerful ruling Politburo member, and Mrs. Gu's co-defendant Zhang Xiaojun, forcibly fed cyanide to Heywood, killing him instantly in a hotel room.

If those reports are accurate, Wang Pengfei, as the forensic chief, probably certified the initial cause of death as poisoning.

Now Mr. Wang has been charged with "dereliction of duty" as a result of the Gu case, a sign that the reported cause of Heywood's death by cyanide poisoning may not hold water. The charge raises questions about whether Mr. Wang falsified the cause of death by cyanide poisoning, or whether other methods were used to kill Heywood, who reportedly was close to Mr. Bo's family.

Mrs. Gu and Mr. Zhang were charged two weeks ago with homicide. But the official published charge did not specify how Heywood was killed or when.

A local court in the eastern province of Anhui will hold the trial, which observers say will last a few days.

A guilty verdict against the defendants is almost certain in Chinese courts, based on past similar political cases.

Final sentences are expected to be announced by the end of August, removing another factor of political uncertainty before the major political reshuffling of power set for the 18th Party Congress scheduled in Beijing, probably in October.

Russia seizes Two Chinese fishing vessels

Russian border authorities patrolling near Siberia seized two Chinese fishing vessels July 24 for illegal fishing in Russia's exclusive economic zone.

The seizures followed the July 16 deadly encounter between a Chinese fishing boat and a Russian patrol ship. Russian sailors seized the Chinese vessel after it collided with the patrol boat and fled. One Chinese fisherman was killed in the incident, in which the Russian patrol boat fired its deck guns.

In the July 24 incident, Russian authorities detained 33 Chinese fishermen from the two boats in the latest dustup over maritime claims.

That makes a total of 10 Chinese fishing vessels currently in Russian custody. The Russians have filed criminal charges against three Chinese captains and a crewmate.

The July 16 incident caused an uproar in China, where anti-Russia sentiment is growing despite Beijing's efforts to court Moscow and forge a strategic partnership against the West.

The fishing incidents pose serious problems for Beijing over whether to get tough with Russia at the expense of its coveted good relationship with President Vladimir Putin's government.

China and Russia share much in common on the international stage, such as shielding dictators Bashar Assad in Syria and Moammar Gadhafi of Libya until he was killed by rebels last year.

But on border issues, historical animosities linger, and Russia surprisingly joined China's other neighbors in opposing Beijing's aggressive maritime activities through its vast fleet of fishing boats.

Incidents of Chinese assertiveness have been seen in the South China Sea, East China Sea and now the northern Pacific near Russia.

Reports say fishing has been particular bountiful in the Russian exclusive economic zone, which covers areas of the Sea of Japan.

Chinese fishermen can obtain fishing licenses from Russian authorities, but most Chinese don't bother to apply. As a result, the majority of Chinese fishing boats operate without proper licenses.

Russian authorities estimate about three dozen Chinese fishing vessels illegally operate inside the Russian zone.

Tense behind-the-scene diplomatic talks were held in Beijing and Moscow seeking to resolve the glitch in Sino-Russo relations.

On Monday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry stated that the Russians would soon release the captured Chinese who have not been charged in court. In exchange, China agreed to a Russian demand that no more intrusions would take place and that China would pay a large fine for any illegally caught fish hauled in by Chinese vessels.

Miles Yu's column appears Thursdays. He can be reached at mmilesyu@gmail.com.