A Chinese court yesterday sentenced former leading politician Bo Xilai (薄熙來) to life in prison after a sensational corruption trial that exposed intrigue and lavish lifestyles in the higher levels of the ruling party.
Bo, a member of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) 25-strong politburo before his dramatic downfall, was convicted of bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power.
“The court sentences Bo Xilai to life imprisonment for taking bribes, deprives him of his political rights for life and confiscates all his property,” the Jinan Intermediate People’s Court said on its verified page on Sina Weibo, a micro-blogging service.
As a state servant, Bo “abused his power [and] caused heavy losses to the interests of the country and the people,” it said, adding the circumstances of the case were “particularly serious.”
Bo was ousted from office last year after a scandal that saw his wife, Gu Kailai (谷開來), convicted of the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood. The court sentenced Bo to life after finding him guilty of taking 20.4 million yuan (US$3.3 million) in bribes.
It also sentenced him to 15 years in prison for embezzlement and seven for abuse of power. The life sentence was more severe than many analysts had expected.
Bo’s trial last month revealed a lifestyle in excess of what CCP officials on modest salaries should be able to afford, with evidence of bribes from rich businesspeople, including a close associate who bought his family a villa in France.
In the proceedings, Bo described a love triangle between his wife and his top aide, while the court said he had acted to suppress an investigation into his wife’s murder of the British businessman who had helped Bo manage property abroad.
A photograph posted by the court showed a handcuffed Bo, 64, dressed in an open-collar white shirt, black trousers and black athletic shoes, in the court surrounded by four uniformed police officers. State TV later showed footage of Bo listening to the proceedings as two officers held him in place.
At a press conference after the verdict, court spokesman Liu Yanjie (劉延傑) said Bo did not indicate in court whether he would appeal.
His lawyers could not immediately be reached for comment.
The catalyst for Bo’s fall came when his top aide — then-Chong- qing police chief Wang Lijun (王立軍) — fled in February last year to the US consulate in Chengdu with evidence that the politician’s wife had murdered the Briton the previous November.
With factions in the upper echelons of the CCP reportedly split over how to handle Bo, a year and a half passed before he went to trial, becoming the most high-profile official to do so in decades.
In last month’s gripping five-day hearing, he mounted a fierce and defiant defense against claims that he corruptly obtained money and abused his political position to cover up the murder.
City University of Hong Kong Chinese politics expert Joseph Cheng (鄭宇碩) said Bo’s active defense helped earn him a harsh sentence.
“A defiant attitude and refusing to admit one’s guilt is considered bad behavior and attracts a heavier sentence,” Cheng said. “Bo Xilai would certainly like to retain a chance of a political comeback, and a heavier sentence from the state certainly indicates a rejection of any chance of giving him a political comeback. This deprivation of political rights for life is an implicit answer to that kind of demand.”
Bo poured billions into public works and social housing programs while CCP secretary of Chongqing, where he launched a high-profile anti-crime campaign that won him admirers across China.
Despite his popularity, reports of forced confessions and torture during the crime crackdown horrified Chinese liberals, while some top party leaders saw his ambition as challenging the party’s cherished unity.
Yesterday’s verdict drew often cynical responses on Chinese social media.
Bo’s trial “perhaps is not the victory of anti-corruption,” a user wrote in English on Sina Weibo, calling it “further evidence” of rampant corruption, including in the judicial system.
Despite the life sentence, Bo might not spend all his remaining days in prison.
In the past, senior politicians given prison terms have reportedly been released on medical parole and held under strict security at their family homes.