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Wife of China's Bo would only testify to protect son: sources

Gu Kailai (C), wife of ousted Chinese Communist Party Politburo member Bo Xilai, stands at the defendant's dock during a trial in the court
Gu Kailai (C), wife of ousted Chinese Communist Party Politburo member Bo Xilai, stands at the defendant's dock during a trial in the court

By Benjamin Kang Lim and Ben Blanchard

BEIJING (Reuters) - The wife of disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai would only agree to provide evidence against him at his trial if a deal had been reached to protect their son, two sources familiar with the situation told Reuters.

Bo, a charismatic senior leader of the Communist Party whose ambitions to join the country's apex of power were dashed last year, goes on trial on Thursday, charged with corruption, accepting bribes and abuse of power, in China's most divisive and dramatic case in almost four decades.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, who doubles as Communist Party and military chief, would be keen to put the trial behind him as he pushes major economic reforms ahead of a closed-door party plenum in September or October where he will need unstinted support from the party, sources close to the leadership have said.

A deal in which Bo can be swiftly convicted and sent to jail, sparing him a death penalty and with no repercussions for his son, could be in the interests of both sides, sources say.

Bo's wife, Gu Kailai, and his police chief, Wang Lijun, have both been jailed over a scandal stemming from the November 2011 murder of British businessman Neil Heywood in the southwestern city of Chongqing, where Bo was Communist Party boss.

Bo was sacked in March last year and has not been seen in public since. Their son, Bo Guagua, remains in the United States, where he is preparing for his first year at Columbia Law School in New York.

Media reports have suggested that Gu could appear as a witness for the prosecution and may already have provided evidence against Bo.

A source familiar with the situation, who declined to be identified citing the sensitivity of the matter, said there was only one way Gu would agree to work against her husband - to protect the younger Bo.

"Gu loves Bo very much and the only way for her to provide any evidence against Bo would be because some deal to protect their son has been struck," the source said, without elaborating on what form that could take.

Another source said prosecutors would not have indicted Bo if they did not have adequate evidence against him.

"Gu Kailai does not have to testify for the trial to proceed. Bo Xilai and Gu Kailai share a goal: to protect their son from being held responsible" by Chinese authorities for any possible wrongdoing, the source said.

At her trial in August last year, Gu admitted to poisoning Heywood and alleged that a business dispute between them led the Briton to threaten Guagua, according to official accounts published by state media.

Guagua, the only child of Bo and Gu, was educated at an elite British private school and then Oxford and Harvard Universities. His Facebook photos from parties and reports last year of a playboy lifestyle in the United States created a firestorm on the Internet back in China.

Though his friends and acquaintances have said he would like to challenge the negative perception of his parents more forcefully, Guagua has said very little publicly because he fears it could only make matters worse.

Calls to Bo's government-appointed lawyer Li Guifang went unanswered.

Li Xiaolin, a lawyer who has represented Gu's family in the past, said he did not know if Gu would be called to give evidence against Bo.

"Nobody will know for certain if Gu will appear until the day of the trial," Li said.

However, Li Zhuang, a lawyer and prominent opponent of Bo during Bo's time as Chongqing's party boss, said he thought it was unlikely Gu would have to put in an appearance.

"It's not likely Gu Kailai will have to appear in court as I don't think they need her. There is already plenty of evidence against Bo Xilai. If they did not think they had the evidence they would not be bringing the case to trial now," he said.

(Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

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