By John Ruwitch and Chris Buckley
HEFEI, China/BEIJING (Reuters) - The Chinese woman accused of murdering British businessman Neil Heywood admitted guilt and blamed a mental breakdown for the events that brought her to trial and toppled her once-powerful politician husband, Bo Xilai, state media said on Friday.
The first extended public comments on the case from Bo's wife, Gu Kailai, appeared in a Xinhua news agency account which said she and a household aide, Zhang Xiaojun, had "confessed to intentional homicide" in poisoning Heywood in November.
"I will accept and calmly face any sentence and I also expect a fair and just court decision," Gu told her trial on Thursday, according to the Xinhua account, which could not be independently verified.
But the state media account of Gu's testimony also repeated her argument that she turned on Heywood, a long-time family friend who had helped her son Bo Guagua with his schooling in England, only after she decided he was a threat to her son.
"During those days last November, I suffered a mental breakdown after learning that my son was in jeopardy," Gu said.
The latest official account from the scandal that has beset China's ruling Communist Party came on the same day that four Chinese policemen admitted to attempting to shield Gu from suspicion of the murder of Heywood, an official said, in another damaging development for the ex-Politburo member.
The official's statement, given after an 11-hour hearing barred to non-official media, formally establishes for the first time that there was an attempted cover-up of the Heywood's murder and comes just a day after Bo's wife, Gu, chose not to contest a charge of poisoning him.
Bo was sacked as Chongqing boss in March and his wife was publicly accused of the murder in April, when Bo was dumped from the Politburo and detained on an accusation he had violated party discipline - code for corruption, abuse of power and other misdeeds.
Until then, Heywood's death had been attributed to a possible heart attack brought on by too much alcohol.
Bo's downfall has stirred more public division than that of any other party leader for more than 30 years. To leftist supporters, Bo became a charismatic rallying figure for efforts to reimpose party control over dizzying, unequal market growth.
But he had made some powerful enemies among those who saw him as a dangerous opportunist who yearned to impose his harsh policies on the entire country.
The Xinhua account also gave the first official explanation of the business dispute that allegedly drove a wedge between Gu and Heywood and led to his murder.
Gu introduced Heywood "to serve as a proxy to a company and participate in the planning of a land project, which never got started", the report said.
"Heywood later got into a dispute with Bogu Kailai and her son over payment and other issues, and he threatened her son's personal safety," it said. Bogu is Gu's formal surname.
The Xinhua account did not say how much the proposed project was worth, but sources have said the court heard that Heywood believed he deserved about 10 percent of 130 million pounds ($204 million).
LEGAL NOOSE TIGHTENING
Neither the official account of Gu's closed-door trial, the most politically explosive case in China in three decades, nor that of Friday's proceedings mentioned Bo by name. But the legal noose appears to tightening around the brash politician who cast himself as a leftist alternative to China's rulers.
Court official, Tang Yigan, told reporters in the eastern city of Hefei that the four police - from Bo's former powerbase of southwest Chongqing, the vast municipality where Heywood was killed - had found that Gu was a prime suspect.
"By falsifying interview records, concealing evidence and other means, they covered up the fact that she had been at the scene," Tang said, adding that one of the four policemen, Guo Weiguo, was a friend of the Bo family.
Verdicts for Gu and the four policemen - Guo Weiguo, Li Yang, Wang Pengfei and Wang Zhi - will be handed down at a later date, the court said. Bo's former Chongqing police chief, Wang Lijun, has yet to be indicted, though the South China Morning Post has said Wang's trial could follow next week.
Gu and a family aide poisoned Heywood at a Chongqing hotel, using a cyanide compound, the Xinhua report said, adding dramatic detail to the confrontation behind the scandal.
Heywood became drunk, and after he asked for a glass of water, Gu "put the bottle of cyanide compound she had prepared into Heywood's mouth" and scattered capsules around his villa room to make it appear as if he had been popping pills.
The murder scandal erupted after the former police chief Wang dramatically sought temporary refuge in a U.S. consulate in February, just weeks after he was said to have confronted Bo with Gu's involvement.
Bo was sacked as Chongqing boss in March and his wife was publicly accused of Heywood's murder in April, when Bo was also dumped from the Politburo and detained on an accusation he had violated party discipline - code for corruption, abuse of power and other misdeeds.
($1 = 0.6373 British pounds)
(Additional reporting by Chris Buckley and Ben Blanchard in Beijing and Reuters TV in Hefei; Editing by Mark Bendeich, Robert Birsel and Michael Roddy)