Former Politburo member Bo Xilai’s trial in the provincial city of Jinan this week is the most prominent in a series of graft cases at the heart of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s bid to cement control with a promise to clean up the Communist Party.
Bo, charged with bribery as well as abuse of power in the death of a British businessman, will face trial Aug. 22, the Xinhua News Agency said Aug. 18. He’ll join a line of punished officials including a minister who steered contracts to associates, court judges removed for hiring prostitutes and a township cadre fired for spending $32,000 on his daughter’s wedding banquet.
With his verdict, Bo will be the highest-level official to have faced prosecution during a war on graft that Xi said was necessary to keep people from losing faith in the Communist Party. While Bo was removed from his posts and expelled from the party before Xi came to power, Chinese state media are attempting to portray Bo’s trial and corruption cases against other officials as evidence of the party’s zero-tolerance policy toward graft under Xi.
The trial will “help to consolidate the authority of Xi Jinping,” said Zhang Qianfan, a professor of law at Peking University. “Through this process the party can help to improve its image because they’ll say, ‘After all we are cracking down on some tigers, not only flies.’”
That’s a reference to the campaign the party has announced and is meant to counter concerns that only low-level officials will be targeted and not senior-level cadres who may have the power to avoid punishment. Last month, former Railway Minister Liu Zhijun was given a suspended death sentence for abuse of power and taking bribes. Earlier this month, Liu Tienan, the former vice chairman of the country’s top planning agency, was expelled from the party for taking bribes.
“Bo’s case also firmly aligns with the Communist Party’s determination to fight against corruption, once again making it clear that no one can ride roughshod over the law,” the Global Times said yesterday, citing Wuhan University constitutional law professor Qin Qianhong.
Xinhua made the same point earlier this month, reporting that the party’s treatment of Bo and other powerful officials accused or convicted of corruption indicates “the CPC’s resolve to sniff out every corrupt pheromone, punish every guilty official and constantly eliminate the soil which breeds graft.”
Speaking after he was appointed Communist Party general secretary in November, Xi called corruption one of the “severe challenges” faced by the party. Xi, named China’s president in March, later said social unrest may rise and could lead to the party’s demise unless leaders address corruption.
In the months since, state news agencies have regularly announced investigations against party cadres and government officials. Earlier this month, Xinhua announced that four senior Shanghai judges were removed for allegedly hiring prostitutes. On its website yesterday, the party’s flagship People’s Daily newspaper highlighted allegations that the wife of a local party official had received a salary without holding a job for eight years.
“Leading cadres should have the correct understanding that cadres’ power is not their own, but belongs to all the people,” the editorial said.
Bo was formally charged last month by the prosecutor’s office in Jinan, the Shandong capital, more than 16 months after he was removed from his post as the party boss of southwestern China’s Chongqing municipality.
His trial follows the August 2012 conviction of his wife, Gu Kailai, for murdering British businessman Neil Heywood in Chongqing where Bo was party general secretary. She was later issued a suspended death sentence.
In a statement released to the New York Times yesterday, Bo and Gu’s son, Bo Guagua, said he had been denied contact with his parents for 18 months and could “only surmise the conditions of their clandestine detention.”
“I hope that in my father’s upcoming trial, he is granted the opportunity to answer his critics and defend himself without constraints of any kind,” Bo Guagua said in the statement.
As the son of former Vice Premier Bo Yibo, one of the “eight immortals” of the Communist Party, Bo, like Xi, belongs to the princeling class of second-generation officials whose families are tied together through decades of shared experiences, alliances and patronage.
Bo’s ouster has focused attention on the accumulation of wealth by the politically connected. The extended families of Bo and Gu, for example, built a fortune of at least $136 million in company shares and property, according to regulatory and corporate filings.
“The problem of corruption cannot be solved in a short time,” Zhang Ming, a political scientist at Renmin University in Beijing, said by phone. “The problem is big. You cannot expect to solve it through a anti-corruption storm, because it’s a structural corruption in China. We can’t solve it through current measures.”
Heywood’s family is seeking at least 30 million yuan ($4.9 million) in compensation for his death, the Wall Street Journal reported Aug. 13.
A former commerce minister and governor of northeastern China’s Liaoning province, Bo, 64, rose to prominence for his moves in Chongqing to boost social spending and state-led financing. His crackdown on organized crime, called “da hei,” or “strike black,” was a cornerstone of his tenure.
Once seen as a possible candidate for the ruling Politburo Standing Committee, Bo was expelled from the party last September. The party said he took bribes throughout his career and abused his power in the homicide case against his wife, Xinhua reported at the time. He also had improper sexual relations with “a number” of women, Xinhua reported.
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