Court told Briton was poisoned

The wife of disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai lured a British businessman to a hotel in the south-western mega-city of Chongqing, where she got him drunk and fed him poison, according to testimony in one of China's highest-profile murder trials in years.

The secretive trial of Gu Kailai and a household aide, who are accused of murdering Bo family associate Neil Heywood, ended in less than a day at the Intermediate People's Court in the eastern Chinese city of Hefei. The defendants did not contest the murder charges; a guilty verdict is all but assured and could carry a death sentence.

The tightly orchestrated court proceeding marks a step toward resolving the messiest scandal the Communist leadership has faced in two decades. Gu's husband, Bo Xilai, was one of China's most powerful and charismatic politicians until he was ousted in the spring as the scandal surrounding Mr Heywood's death unfolded. Observers say the party's main objective is to keep the focus tightly on the murder case and not on larger allegations of corruption that could further taint the regime.

International media were barred from the courtroom, so details of the case against Gu were provided afterward by Tang Yigan, the court's deputy director. He said prosecutors told the court that Gu sent her aide, Zhang Xiaojun, to meet and accompany Mr Heywood from Beijing to Chongqing, where Bo was the Communist Party boss.

Gu and Mr Heywood were business associates but had had a dispute over economic interests, according to Tang, whose account matched details from the indictment reported by the official Xinhua News Agency several weeks ago. Gu thought Mr Heywood was a threat to her son, Bo Guagua, and decided to have him killed, said Tang, who did not specify what sort of threat Mr Heywood posed. On the night of November 13, Gu went to Mr Heywood's hotel and drank alcohol and tea with him.

"When Heywood was drunk and vomited and wanted to drink water, she then took pre-prepared poison that she had asked Zhang Xiaojun to carry, and poured it into Heywood's mouth, killing him," Tang said.

Mr Heywood's friends and family have said he was never a heavy drinker, and they rejected investigators' initial conclusion that he drank himself to death. His body was cremated and no autopsy was performed

Tang said the prosecutors believed the facts of the crime were clear and the evidence sufficient, and that "Gu Kailai is the main culprit and Zhang is the accomplice."

On Friday four former police officials from Chongqing will also go on trial at the same court, charged with covering up for Gu in Mr Heywood's murder.

Gu and Zhang are likely to be found guilty of intentional homicide, which carries punishment ranging from more than 10 years in jail to a life sentence or the death penalty. In announcing the indictment about two weeks ago, Xinhua made clear the government considers the verdict a foregone conclusion.