China’s once high-flying politician Bo Xilai (薄熙來) was indicted yesterday 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 Chinese Communist Party (CCP) boss of Chong-qing, will be the highest-profile 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, Xinhua news agency said, citing prosecutors in the city.
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 the middle of next month.
There was no sign of increased security yesterday outside Jinan Intermediate Court, a huge gated building in the city center 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 CCP’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 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 CCP’s official paper, urged support for the decision.
Xinhua called on people to “recognize 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 (王立軍) fled to a US consulate in Chengdu, allegedly to seek asylum. Bo was detained a month later.
Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai (谷開來), was given a suspended death sentence in August last year 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 last year for defection and other crimes.
Bo himself was removed from his party and government posts, losing his legal immunity at the end of last year.
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.”
Bo has appointed two lawyers, both members of a law firm that has close ties to the CCP.
In China, trials of such high-level officials accused of corruption are less about legal process than they are about decisions hammered out by politicians and the party’s graft investigators, and announced by a court.
Additional reporting by staff writer