Ousted Chinese Politburo member Bo Xilai appealed his conviction for bribery, abuse of power and embezzlement, maintaining his innocence after a trial that resulted in a life prison sentence.
The Shandong Provincial Higher People’s Court agreed to hear the appeal, according to a statement posted on the court’s website yesterday. Bo was convicted and sentenced Sept. 22, a month after his five-day trial ended.
An appeal, while unlikely to overturn the conviction, may result in a reduced sentence for Bo, the former Chongqing municipality party secretary who was mentioned as a possible candidate for the ruling Politburo Standing Committee before his ouster last year. Throughout his trial, Bo jousted with the judge hearing his case and insisted he never broke the law.
“He still wants to retain the chance of a political comeback,” Joseph Cheng, a professor of political science at City University of Hong Kong, said. “It is likely there will be a reconsideration but I don’t think the court will change the verdict.”
Bo was found guilty Sept. 22 of taking 20.4 million yuan ($3.3 million) in bribes, embezzling 5 million yuan and abusing power in the death of British businessman Neil Heywood. Prosecutors alleged that Bo tried to cover up his wife Gu Kailai’s involvement in Heywood’s murder.
The Communist Party may want to wrap up Bo’s appeal before a party conclave in November where President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang may push for new financial policies that may reshape China’s economy for the next decade. The plenum is expected to discuss deepening reforms and achieving stable economic development, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
Bo’s trial, which ended last month, broke with precedent as the party let the court release edited transcripts of his defense. Bo called the bribery charges something “even the lousiest TV drama scriptwriter wouldn’t create,” according to transcripts from the court in the city of Jinan, where the trial took place.
The sentence fits into a broader campaign against corruption that Xi has said poses a threat to Communist Party rule. Since Bo’s trial in August, Xi’s anti-graft campaign has focused on people tied to Zhou Yongkang, until last year head of China’s security services. Zhou praised Bo’s achievements as the party boss of Chongqing municipality just days before Bo was ousted from the job.
“If Mr. Xi does decide to go after Zhou Yongkang formally, if would have indicated that he is extraordinarily determined, that he is willing to stand up and become the strong man of the era,” said Dali Yang, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago, said before the court announcement. “It would also risk sending a lot of chills and potentially also cause trouble that could be unanticipated.”
Prosecutors’ claims and Bo’s testimony during his trial offered a rare glimpse into the inner conflicts of one of China’s leading families. Bo’s father, Bo Yibo, was one of the revolutionaries who brought the Communists into power in 1949.
In a letter to his family, Bo wrote that his name will be cleared one day, the South China Morning Post reported Sept. 19. Like his father, who was jailed and then rehabilitated, Bo said he would “wait quietly in prison,” the SCMP quoted the letter as saying. “My father was jailed many times. I will follow in his footsteps.”
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