China charges Bo Xilai with corruption, abuse of power


JINAN, China – China’s once high-flying communist politician Bo Xilai was indicted Thursday for bribery and abuse of power, state media said, following a scandal that exposed deep divisions at the highest levels of government. Bo, the former party chief of the southwestern city of Chongqing, will be the highest-profile Communist official to be put on trial in China for decades. He has not been seen in public for more than a year since he was detained following the murder of a British businessman by his wife and his right-hand man’s flight to a US consulate, triggering a huge political controversy.
“The indictment paper was delivered” to a court in Jinan, China’s official Xinhua news agency said, citing prosecutors in the city in the eastern province of Shandong.
Bo “took the advantage of his position to seek profits for others and accepted an ‘extremely large amount’ of money and properties”, it said, quoting the indictment.
A source with direct knowledge of the case, who requested anonymity, said the trial could begin in mid-August.
There was no sign of increased security on Thursday outside Jinan intermediate court, a huge gated building in the city centre where the trial is due to take place.
News of the proceedings comes at a time when the party is trying to show it is cracking down on corruption and government waste.
It has also had to manage the political rifts exposed by the downfall of Bo – once one of 25 members of the ruling party’s Politburo.
The decision to oust such a high-ranking leader would have required tough backroom negotiations among top leaders.
The trial would be an easier final step after the harder task of defusing any backlash among Bo supporters, said David Goodman, a China expert at the University of Sydney.
Holding the proceedings now would also allow leaders to draw a line under the scandal ahead of a key Communist Party plenum expected in the autumn.
“Politically it’s logical now to do this before the plenum in October so you’ve got a neatness about it,” Goodman said.
“The most difficult parts were all done,” he said, adding that the trial would probably “be dealt with in a boring procedural way with as little drama as possible”.
Both Xinhua and the People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s official paper, urged support for the decision.
Xinhua called on people to “recognise the ugly face” of officials “who sought personal gain” and on local governments to “defend the authority” of the Beijing leadership.
“China’s history has repeatedly proved that the stability and security of the country can only be ensured when the authority of the central government is maintained,” it said.
The scandal emerged last year ahead of a once-a-decade leadership transition, in which Bo had been considered a candidate for the Politburo Standing Committee – China’s most powerful body.
His downfall was triggered after his police chief and right-hand man Wang Lijun fled to a US consulate in Chengdu city near Chongqing, allegedly to seek asylum. Bo was detained a month later.
He had cultivated an unusually populist public image and led a high-profile anti-mafia campaign, which resulted in scores of arrests but led to allegations of torture against suspects.
Bo also revived some elements of 1960s Communist Party culture as part of a “Sing Red” campaign involving massive rallies, which drew comparisons with China’s tumultuous Cultural Revolution period.
His approach won popular support but also divided top leaders, some of whom felt wary about the leftist bent.
Bo’s wife was given a suspended death sentence last August for fatally poisoning businessman and family friend Neil Heywood. The penalty is normally commuted to a life sentence in China.
Wang was sentenced to 15 years in prison in September for defection and other crimes.
Bo himself was removed from his party and government posts, losing his legal immunity at the end of 2012.
Official media said he had “borne major responsibility” for the murder of Heywood and had taken “massive” bribes and had indulged in inappropriate sexual relations with “multiple women”.
It is unclear what evidence will be revealed in court. Trials in China are not public and move quickly, with judgements often decided beforehand by political authorities, especially in high-profile cases.
One user of China’s popular microblog Sina Weibo questioned whether the trial “will showcase fairness and justice”.
Bo has appointed two lawyers, both members of a law firm that has close ties to the ruling party.
The last former Politburo member to be tried for corruption, Chen Liangyu, received an 18-year prison term in 2008.