Ousted Chinese politician Bo Xilai (薄熙來) lashed out at his long-awaited trial yesterday, contesting bribery charges arising from a lurid murder and corruption scandal that has shaken the country’s communist leadership.
Bo, who was tipped for top office ahead of a once-in-a-decade leadership transition last year, accused a key prosecution witness of “selling his soul,” while describing purported testimony from his wife, Gu Kailai (谷開來), as laughable.
Bo faces charges of bribery, embezzlement and abusing his political powers to cover up Gu’s murder of British businessman Neil Heywood in 2011, according to the Intermediate People’s Court in Jinan, in eastern China, which released regular transcripts on its Weibo microblogging account.
However, rather than following standard procedure for Chinese political trials — where the accused tend to confess — Bo went on the offensive as he appeared in public for the first time in about 18 months, wearing an open-necked white shirt.
He denied accepting more than 1.1 million yuan (US$180,000) in bribes from Dalian businessman Tang Xiaolin (唐肖林), saying he had “confessed against his will” while under interrogation by the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) feared internal disciplinary body.
Tang, he said, was “utterly corrupt and a liar,” countering that the businessman himself had committed “major crimes” of embezzlement and bribery.
“He’s simply trying to get his punishment reduced,” Bo said. “That’s why he bites around like a mad dog.”
The judge told him: “Defendant, the court reminds you, you can’t use language slandering the dignity of the witness.”
Bo also denied accusations that he accepted money and gifts worth 20.7 million yuan — including a villa in southern France — from private conglomerate Shide Group chairman Xu Ming (徐明), calling them “untrue.”
Bo said he was “completely unaware” of the French property, adding “the whole process was made up.”
The court said in a statement that Gu — in connection with the bribery charges — had provided evidence that she took tens of thousands of dollars at a time from safes at the couple’s homes.
However, Bo described her purported testimony as “hilarious.”
“How could she say for certain that I put the US$50,000 or US$80,000 into the safes?” he said.
It was not clear whether the court’s transcripts were complete, as no independent observers or foreign media organization were inside the room.
Despite Bo’s apparent vigorous defense, analysts said authorities had clearly decided to let him speak out and his doing so could serve to bolster the official line that he was being given a fair trial.
Willy Lam (林和立), an expert on Chinese politics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said: “I think the authorities will say that they have tried to give him an opportunity to defend himself.
“This live transcript of the trial, it could be used by the authorities to say that they’re now trying to be more transparent, trying to ensure that justice is done and so forth,” Lam said. “So it gives some credence to the spin which Beijing is trying to give this, that means that they are now more willing to observe the rule of law and so forth.”
Nonetheless, Bo’s refusal to admit the charges contrasted with previous political cases in China, including those of both Gu and Bo’s former police boss Wang Lijun (王立軍), who confessed at their trials last year.