Bo Xilai: fallen leader at centre of Chinese 'show trial'
Former high-flyer whose wife was convicted of murdering an English businessman goes on trial
DISGRACED Chinese politician Bo Xilai, whose wife was last year convicted of murdering a British businessman, has gone on trial in Jinan accused of bribery, corruption and abuses of power.
If Bo's fall from grace was surprising, so was the opening of his court case, reports the Daily Telegraph. "What was expected to be a carefully scripted show trial came alive in its opening session," says the paper, as Bo denied the charges against him, renounced previous confessions and described one of his accusers as a "rabid dog".
In an even more unexpected development, given the "political sensitivity" of the trial, Bo's comments were tweeted from the court.
The Times described it as "a bravura performance by a man who crafted himself as a maverick and remains hugely popular in many parts of China" and whose downfall "triggered China's worst political crisis since the 1989 Tiananmen uprisings and exposed the Communist Party as a bloc riven with factional conflict".
But who is Bo Xilai?
The 64-year-old is the son of the late communist leader Bo Yibo which means he’s known as a 'princeling' in China. A charismatic politician, he was leader of the Communist Party in Chonqing, a region with a population bigger than that of Australia and New Zealand combined. It was in Chongqing where he honed his 'neo-leftist' political philosophy. As one of the figureheads of China's "red" movement, a group that revived songs and slogans from the Mao era, he was on course to become one of China's top leaders, until his downfall in 2012.
What happened? Bo and his police chief Wang Lijun achieved great popularity after spearheading an anti-corruption drive against the mafia in Chongqing. But in early 2012, Wang suddenly sought refuge in a US consulate and accused Bo of corruption. Other allegations soon surfaced and Bo was accused of using "mafia methods in the name of cracking down on the mafia". There were also claims of bribery. Most damaging of all were links to British businessman Neil Heywood, who was found poisoned in his Chongqing hotel room in November 2011. It later transpired that Heywood was in dispute with Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, over a business deal.
What happened in the Heywood case? Gu Kailai was charged with murder and was convicted when she did not contest the charges. She was given a suspended death sentence. At the time of her trial in August 2012 BBC correspondent Damian Grammaticus wrote: "The outcome of the case is a neat one for the Communist Party. It pins the blame for Neil Heywood's death on Gu Kailai, but she escapes the full death penalty."
So what charges does Bo face? Bo, who has not been seen in public for 17 months, is accused of taking some £3m in bribes and committing abuses of power. The amounts of money involved are relatively small. But The Times says that is "a possible sign that the authorities do not want the full extent of bribe-taking by senior Party officials dissected too closely at this trial".
What will happen to him? Bo may have launched a spirited defence on the opening day of the trial, but earlier this week Reuters said: "It is almost certain Bo will be convicted as China's prosecutors and judges are controlled by the ruling Communist Party, and he could theoretically be sentenced to death."
Why is the trial so significant? Bo was on course to be elected to China's top decision-making body, the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee, when the scandal broke. Although he was hugely popular and ambitious, the BBC explains that "his ambition earned him enemies and he was considered controversial by top party leaders". That means his trial "is as much about getting rid of a popular politician as it is about criminal wrongdoing". According to The Times, the trial "marks an attempt by the new administration of President Xi Jinping to show that the days of turmoil are over, and that the state has no qualms about tackling corruption at the highest levels". ·