Former Chinese Politburo member Bo Xilai denied guilt in his bribery and abuse-of-power trial, sparring with the judge in a hearing that broke with precedent as court officials released live updates on the Internet.
On the first day of his trial yesterday, Bo rejected charges that he took bribes worth more than 21 million yuan ($3.4 million) and dismissed his wife’s testimony that he kept a safe stocked with cash for her and their son to spend in the U.K. Responding to one witness’s testimony, Bo said he’d just seen “the ugly performance of someone who had sold his soul.”
“I’m not a perfect person, or one with a strong mind, and I’m willing to take responsibility for that,” Bo said, according to remarks posted on the Internet by the Intermediate People’s Court in the city of Jinan. “But I won’t be silent about the basic truth on whether I’m guilty or not.”
Bo’s combativeness showed he will not submit to the charges against him in a case that roiled China’s once-a-decade leadership transition last year, after the Communist Party expelled him following the death of a British businessman. The party remains in control of the trial process, and the only question is whether Bo will be sentenced to death or a long prison term, according to law professor Lin Zhe from the party’s Central Party School.
“I’ve dealt with him before -- if you want to impose something on him, he won’t acquiesce,” Lin said. “Bo Xilai is an official with a strong character so I’m not surprised that he would behave like this. If he didn’t, it wouldn’t be like him.”
Bo’s trial began under tight security, with police herding reporters into a pen near the white-colonnaded courthouse in Jinan. Supporters of the former commerce minister, once considered a candidate for the Politburo’s all-powerful Standing Committee, gathered nearby to wave banners and portraits of Chairman Mao Zedong.
“Bo Xilai goes along with the real socialist road,” said a 42-year-old protester who only gave his last name, Shao. “He did everything for the common people, not for the very few rich people.”
The bribery charge against Bo dates back to his time as mayor of Dalian in the 1990s. The trial resumed today and Bo was expected to face an abuse-of-power charge linked to the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood in Chongqing in 2011, when he was party secretary there.
Bo’s wife Gu Kailai was convicted of murder and given a suspended death sentence last year over Heywood’s death. His former police chief in Chongqing, Wang Lijun, was sentenced to 15 years behind bars on charges related to the cover-up of Heywood’s poisoning at a hotel in the megacity.
During yesterday’s hearing, the court heard that Bo took bribes worth 21.8 million yuan, some via his wife and his son Bo Guagua, according to the indictment released on the court’s microblog. He denied he had committed bribery.
In testimony submitted to the court, Gu described how she periodically withdrew tens of thousands of dollars from a safe shared with Bo for her and Bo Guagua’s expenses in the U.K., the court said on its microblog. Bo also rejected that claim.
“I think Gu Kailai’s testimony is very funny, very laughable,” he said, according to the court. “The safe we shared had more than $50,000 or $80,000 in it. There were also hundreds of thousands of yuan in the safe. How does she know I was the one who put in all the cash she took out?”
Bo said he had acted “against his will” when he admitted to Communist Party discipline officials that he took bribes. “Everything was blank in my mind,” he said.
When a businessman named Tang Xiaolin claimed he had paid Bo $80,000 to help secure support to construct a building, Bo responded: “He wants to win favor and reduce his sentence, and in reality he is biting like a crazy dog.”
Later in the proceedings, the judge asked Bo to maintain his composure and “pull yourself together.”
“OK, no problem,” Bo replied, according to the court transcript. “I feel that the judge’s control has given me a feeling of fair justice. Thank you!”
A report from the official Xinhua News Agency made no mention of Bo’s remarks, saying only that he denied the bribery charge. “The court approved all applications by Bo, who was emotionally stable and physically healthy during the trial, to express his views,” Xinhua said.
Officials released two pictures from inside the court that showed Bo, dressed in a white shirt and dark pants, his hair cut short, between two policemen wearing light-blue shirts and white gloves.
Bo’s decision to defy the court wasn’t new for a former top official, according to the Central Party School’s Lin. She said former National People’s Congress Vice Chairman Cheng Kejie, executed for bribery in 2000, disputed the charges against him, as did former Anhui Vice Governor Wang Huaizhong, who was convicted of bribery and executed in 2004.
“Bo’s uncooperative behaviors are not a surprise for the government,” said Lin Yan, an associate professor at Shanghai Jiao Tong University’s KoGuan Law School. “To what extent that the government will be able to move the trial to the desired direction is another story.”
The difference this time was the court’s move to live-blog the trial and publicize Bo’s remarks. That may reflect a bid for greater transparency and legitimacy even as authorities ensure the outcome, according to Eva Pils, an associate law professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
“They perhaps decided, ‘We will look really bad if we do the ordinary show and everyone says it’s just another one of these scripted trials,’” Pils said. “What is essential is that the authorities clearly remain in control of the trial. Bo Xilai is not able to mount a genuine defense.”
— With assistance by Henry Sanderson, and Hu Shen