Former Politburo member Bo Xilai was removed from China’s legislature on the eve of a once-a-decade leadership transition, stripping him of his legal immunity, and was put under investigation by prosecutors.
Bo’s removal from the National People’s Congress, reported on the official Xinhua News Agency yesterday, is a procedural step after the party turned over his case to the justice system on charges that he bore “major responsibility” in the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood, abused his power and had improper sexual relations with a number of women.
The Supreme People’s Procuratorate, China’s top prosecution agency, has put Bo under investigation for alleged criminal offenses and has imposed “coercive measures” on him as allowed by law, Xinhua reported yesterday evening.
Bo’s downfall, the biggest political upheaval in China in a generation, has clouded the once-a-decade leadership transition set to take place at next month’s Communist Party Congress. The party, seeking to bolster its legitimacy ahead of the congress, has sought to present Bo’s case as an isolated incident.
“It indicates that not just his privileges as a party member have been taken away, his political rights as a citizen are also being taken away,” said Wang Jianwei, a professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.
Bo was suspended from the Politburo in April and lost his party membership last month. His prosecution will probably follow the pattern set by former Shanghai Communist Party Secretary Chen Liangyu, who was removed from his post before the last party congress in 2007 and was prosecuted the following year, according to Willy Wo-Lap Lam, an adjunct professor of history at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
“It looks like it’s kind of tight in terms of time before the party congress,” Lam said. “Going by the past precedents, they will try him after the Congress.”
Chen was replaced in Shanghai by Xi Jinping, the current Chinese vice president who is forecast to be named party general secretary at the congress and then president of China next year.
Until this year, Bo was seen as a possible candidate for inclusion in the Politburo Standing Committee, China’s most powerful ruling body. The standing committee’s new membership will be announced at the conclusion of the congress, which begins Nov. 8.
Bo was the party chief of southwestern China’s Chongqing Municipality until he was ousted in March. He was suspended from China’s Politburo in April and accused of serious disciplinary violations surrounding Heywood’s case.
Bo’s wrongdoing dates back to his time as mayor of Dalian, governor of Liaoning province and minister of commerce, Xinhua said at the time. It said investigators had “found clues to his suspected involvement in other crimes.”
According to the Chinese Constitution’s article 74, NPC deputies can’t be arrested or placed on criminal trial without the consent of the legislature or its standing committee.
Bo’s wife Gu Kailai was convicted Aug. 20 and sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve after she confessed in a one-day trial to poisoning Heywood in a hotel room because she believed he posed a threat to her son as a result of a financial dispute.
A month later, Wang Lijun, the former Chongqing police chief and Bo protege who revealed evidence of Gu’s crime to U.S. diplomats, was convicted on all four charges connected to the case, including bribe-taking and abuse of power. Prosecutors said he tried to cover up the murder, and he was sentenced to 15 years behind bars.
A Sept. 19 Xinhua account of Wang’s trial recounted how Chongqing’s most senior official slapped Wang across the face when he presented evidence that Gu was involved in the murder. Although Bo was not identified by name, he was the most-senior official in the city at the time.
Bo’s behavior “badly undermined” the reputation of the Party and the country, created a “very negative impact at home and abroad,” and significantly damaged the cause of the party and people, Xinhua said at the time.