Ousted Politburo member Bo Xilai suggested his wife may be making up evidence to avoid the death penalty and denied embezzlement charges at a corruption trial that state media said was proof no one’s above the law in China.
After witness Wang Zhenggang claimed he had given 5 million yuan ($817,000) to Bo through his wife, Gu Kailai, for family expenses, Bo said there were contradictions in Wang’s testimony and that if he had done something illegal he would have hidden it better.
Conversations the prosecution alleged Bo had with Wang and Gu were “one-on-one” and their word against his, Bo said today, according to a transcript of proceedings posted on the Weibo microblog account of the court in Jinan, where the trial is being held. “From the prosecution’s perspective, Wang Zhenggang and Gu Kailai will not lie, only Bo Xilai will. Wang Zhenggang and Gu Kailai are not corrupt, only Bo Xilai is. Can this logic hold?” Bo said, according to the transcript.
Bo mounted a defense that did an effective job of exposing gaps in the case against him, even though the Communist Party remains in control and a guilty verdict is almost certain, according toNicholas Bequelin, a Hong Kong-based researcher for Human Rights Watch.
“The decision to give greater rights to the defense team was a political one -- it was either a product of an agreement between Bo and the party or it was simply in order to give more credibility to the trial,” Bequelin said. “But I think that the effect has been somewhat unexpected for the authorities. Bo is coming out looking pretty good.”
Along with bribery and embezzlement charges that have been the focus since the trial started Aug. 22, Bo was charged with abuse of power for allegedly trying to cover up his wife’s role in the 2011 murder of British businessman Neil Heywood.
Bo was removed as Communist Party secretary of Chongqing and ousted from the Politburo last year after his former police chief in the city, Wang Lijun, fled to a U.S. consulate with evidence about his family’s alleged involvement in Heywood’s death.
Wang was convicted of bending the law for selfish ends and sentenced to 15 years in prison last year. Gu was convicted of murdering Heywood and given a suspended death sentence. Her testimony against Bo has been a central part of prosecutors’ case, and included new claims today that Bo knew about the cash from Wang Zhenggang, a former urban planning official in Dalian when Bo was the city mayor.
“I have feelings for Gu Kailai -- she is a relatively weak woman,” Bo said today, according to the transcript. “By telling on someone else she could soon get out of the death penalty. Who could she accuse? All the accusations against me come from Gu Kailai.”
Police cordoned off the streets around the courthouse with metal barricades and yellow plastic tape, emptying out an area about the size of two football fields in what’s normally a crowded city center. The only people on the streets nearby were police in blue uniforms, while black sedans and white vans occasionally came and went from the court building.
Bo’s testimony gave details about his life with Gu, and why she and their son, Bo Guagua, moved abroad. Guagua went to the elite British boarding school Harrow and later to Oxford University, and then graduated from Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.
“I did have extra-marital affairs -- she was very angry about that,” Bo said, adding that he had no need to embezzle money because his wife had made millions of yuan as a lawyer. “So her bringing Guagua abroad was out of anger.”
In a country where the Communist Party maintains strict control of sensitive political trials, the state-run Global Times newspaper said the decision to release updates on Weibo, Sina Corp.’s Twitter-like microblogging platform, “served as an important guarantee of a fair trial for Bo in accordance with the law.”
“This degree of transparency has not happened before,” the editorial said. “This will create a precedent that will bring lasting impact to the future trials of sensitive cases.”
The the details revealed in the trial demonstrate that “no one is above the law,” the party’s flagship People’s Daily newspaper said. “In the fight against corruption we are after both flies and tigers.”
Allowing so much of Bo’s trial to be aired publicly is risky for the Communist Party because it may garner Bo new support from people impressed by his vigorous defense, according to Randy Peerenboom, a law professor at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. That, in turn, may backfire on Bo because the party is still in control, he said.
“If it is the case that Bo Xilai has once again wandered off script, and the leadership is worried that his cool performance under pressure has won him new admirers, then it is possible that he will receive a much harsher punishment than originally planned,” Peerenboom wrote in an e-mail.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rosalind Mathieson at email@example.com