Ousted Politburo member Bo Xilai suggested his wife made up evidence to avoid a death sentence and denied covering up a British man’s murder at a trial that state media said was proof no one’s above the law in China.
“I feel there are big discrepancies in the charges I have been accused of,” Bo said yesterday of the claim that he tried to hide his wife Gu Kailai’s involvement in Neil Heywood’s murder, according to a transcript released by the court. Gu was given a suspended death sentence last year for killing Heywood, and Bo is accused of bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power.
Bo, 64, 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 to Nicholas Bequelin, a Hong Kong-based researcher for Human Rights Watch. The case has broken with past political trials because the court is releasing live updates and detailed transcripts of the proceedings.
“It’s clear that the party is trying to give maximum legitimacy to the judiciary proceedings that will put an end to the Bo Xilai affair,’ Bequelin said. ‘‘But I think that the effect has been somewhat unexpected for the authorities. Bo is coming out looking pretty good.”
Bo, a former commerce minister and party secretary of Chongqing municipality, was once considered a rising star in the Communist Party. His downfall in March of last year upended a once-a-decade leadership transition and shone a spotlight on corruption at the party’s highest levels.
Along with bribery and embezzlement charges that had been the focus since the trial began Aug. 22, Bo is charged with abuse of power for allegedly trying to cover up Gu’s role in Heywood’s 2011 murder. The court came to that charge yesterday, and the trial continues today.
Bo was removed as Chongqing party secretary 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 wife’s alleged involvement in Heywood’s death. Wang testified yesterday that Bo slapped him in the face when confronted with the possibility that Gu was responsible for the murder.
“My body twitched, and when he was done hitting me, he went back to sit at the table,” Wang testified yesterday. “I noticed my mouth was bleeding, and something was flowing out of my ear.”
Wang was convicted of “bending the law for selfish ends” and sentenced to 15 years in prison last year.
Testimony by Gu has been a central part of the prosecution’s case, and included claims yesterday that Bo knew about a 5 million-yuan ($817,000) “consulting fee” given to the family by 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 yesterday, 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 extramarital 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 in an editorial 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 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.”
The official Xinhua News Agency said both domestic and foreign media have “hailed the openness and transparency” of the live blogging.
“The public also generally believe that this showcases the Communist Party of China’s resolve in combating corruption and that the move represents historic progress for the rule of law in China,” Xinhua said.
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.
— With assistance by Liza Lin, Natasha Khan, and Feiwen Rong