Bo Xilai, the former Politburo member charged with bribery and abuse of power, will go on trial on Aug. 22, bringing the Communist Party’s gravest scandal in more than 20 years a step closer to its conclusion.
Bo will face trial in the eastern Chinese city of Jinan in Shandong province at 8:30 a.m., the official Xinhua News Agency said yesterday. He will face charges of bribery, graft and abuse of power, according to Xinhua.
While a not-guilty verdict is unlikely, Bo’s trial is set to be the most politically charged since Chairman Mao Zedong’s wife, Jiang Qing, was prosecuted more than three decades ago for her role in the Cultural Revolution. Bo’s downfall, and his wife’s 2012 conviction for the murder of a British businessman, marked the biggest political scandal for the party since the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.
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.
“Defendant Bo Xilai used his official state position to seek benefits, illegally accepted an extremely huge amount of property from others, embezzled a huge amount of public money, and abused his power, resulting in huge losses to the nation and the people,” Xinhua reported last month, citing Bo’s indictment. “The circumstances are extremely serious.”
As the son of former Vice Premier Bo Yibo, one of the “eight immortals” of the Communist Party, Bo, like President Xi Jinping, belongs to the princeling class of second-generation officials whose families are tied together through decades of shared experiences, alliances and patronage. His trial follows the August 2012 conviction of his wife, Gu Kailai, for murdering Neil Heywood after a one-day trial that produced a suspended death sentence.
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. In a statement to the newspaper, Heywood’s mother Ann said she was disappointed the Chinese authorities hadn’t responded in a substantive way despite “repeated approaches.”
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.
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. Bo won praise from China’s top leaders, including Xi, who flocked to Chongqing to study his policies.
Rare for Chinese politicians, Bo attracted admirers across the country. Supporters unfurled a banner in Chinese that read “Secretary Bo, corrupt and incompetent officials envy you, the people love you,” outside a courthouse in Guiyang on Jan. 28, where some media reports said his trial would be held.
Once seen as a possible candidate for the ruling Politburo Standing Committee, Bo was expelled from the party in 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.
The People’s Daily published a page-one commentary July 26 on Bo’s case, saying the prosecution shows the new leaders are serious about cracking down on corruption even in the highest levels of government.
“People will be held accountable and severely punished if they break the law, no matter who they are, no matter whether their power is great or small, no matter whether their positions are high or low,” the unsigned commentary said.
Bo was ousted as party secretary of Chongqing in March 2012 and accused of violating party discipline after his former police chief fled to a U.S. consulate with evidence that Gu helped plot Heywood’s murder, after they clashed over financial issues, Xinhua reported last year. The police chief, Wang Lijun, was given 15 years in prison in September for trying to cover up the killing.
In a separate development, Xinhua yesterday cited Supreme People’s Procuratorate of China as saying Liu Tienan, a former vice chairman of China’s National Development and Reform Commission, is under investigation on suspicion of taking bribes. The Communist Party announced earlier this month it had expelled Liu after finding that he and his relatives took huge bribes.
— With assistance by Michael Forsythe