UK & World News

  • 22 September 2013, 1:08

Sentence Due In Bo Xilai Trial In China

The verdict in one of China's most publicised and politically sensitive trials in decades is expected in the next few hours.

Shortly after 10am local time (0300GMT), at a court in the city of Jinan, disgraced Communist Party politician Bo Xilai will discover his fate.

The moment should mark the end of a protracted legal and political saga which began with the murder of a British businessman and caused political ripples right to the heart of China's Communist leadership.

The five day trial of Mr Bo, 64, for alleged bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power ended last month at Jinan's Intermediate People's Court.

With unprecedented openness and moments of genuine suspense, it was a Chinese trial like no other before it. It surprised the Chinese public and academics.

Influential academic Yao Zhongqui told Sky News: "Before the trial started, we thought it would be like all those before it; just procedural, because that's how China's judicial system works.

"So after the trial started, everybody was surprised. All the court records seemed to be released, we could see the defendant performing and defending himself; all of it was surprising.

"It didn't look like a Chinese court case," added Mr Yao, who runs the Beijing-based Unirule Institute of Economics.

Through televised highlights and minute-by-minute microblog updates from the court, the Chinese public was able to follow Mr Bo's robust self-defence and disdainful cross-examination of witnesses.

Performing with the charisma and trademark flair which has set him apart in Chinese politics, he laughed-off the central accusation against him that he had illegally obtained 26.8 million yuan (2.73m).

He said money did not interest him, claiming, rather unusually, that even his underwear was 50-years-old.

In one of the most dramatic moments of the trial, Mr Bo dismissed the two star witnesses against him - his wife, and his former chief of police - as "crazy" and a "liar" respectively.

In reference to some of the bribery allegations, he complained that "not even the worst TV script writers could come up with such plots".

At times though, the trial itself resembled a soap opera, with Mr Bo revealing a complicated love triangle between himself, his wife Gu Kailai, and Wang Lijun, his former police chief.

The prosecution produced documentary and anecdotal evidence which it claimed showed the Bo family to be extremely wealthy with bulging bank accounts, access to private jets and a villa near Cannes in France.

Stories emerged in court regarding the antics of Bo Guagua, the son of Bo and Gu Kailai.

The young Bo, who studied at Harrow, Oxford and Harvard had, according to the prosecution, jetted across Europe and Africa and been allowed to enjoy a playboy lifestyle which went against all Communist Party principles.

Many of the trips and other financial deals were, the prosecution claimed, the result of Bo Xilai's corrupt dealings with businessmen.

Mr Bo had, it is claimed, abused his various positions of power over decades. He had instigated corrupt deals with numerous business associates with whom his relationship should never have been financial.

For almost two decades, from 1985, Bo Xilai had climbed up the Communist Party ladder from mayor of the north-eastern port city of Dalian, to governor of Liaoning Province.

He served as the Chinese government's Commerce Minister and wowed many foreign counterparts with his relaxed domineer, modern and apparently capitalist outlook and his political drive.

At one point, it was almost certain he would be chosen as one of the seven men on the Standing Committee of the Politburo who run the country.

However, his career came to a spectacular halt four and a half years after he became Communist Party Secretary in the central Chinese city of Chongqing.

The fall from grace was swift and almost inevitable after his wife was accused of the murder of a friend and business associate of the Bo family, a Briton called Neil Heywood.

In a dramatic sequence of events over the winter of 2011-2012, the conspiracy began to unravel.

Mr Bo's chief of police in Chongqing, Wang Lijun, left his post and fled to a US consulate. Mr Wang asked for political asylum and told the Americans that Bo's wife had poisoned Mr Heywood.

His asylum request was rejected but the lurid claim could not be ignored. The fact Mr Wang had chosen to tell the Americans and not his own superiors was an acute embarrassment for the Communist Party. Within months, Wang and Gu were tried, convicted and jailed.

The Chinese government is presenting Mr Bo's trial as the downfall of a corrupt crook.

However, it is widely seen as being far more a political purge of a man who posed a threat to the current leadership of President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang.

With his charisma, leftist politics and revival of Maoist ideals, Bo Xilai appealed to a significant section of Chinese society.

Yao Zhongqui explained: "Bo Xilai has a large influence among the public. A trial that was clearly unfair would probably have been counterproductive. It would only increase Bo Xilai's popularity."

"However, a fair trial is more likely to make Mr Bo's supporters accept the result. I think this is an important reason for the openness of the trial." he said.

Bo is widely expected to be found guilty. If he is, then the Chinese leadership has conveniently achieved several goals: they have shown themselves to be tough on corruption, they have proved that 'open' justice is possible in China, and they have removed a rival.