Bo Still Defiant at Trial End as China Lauds Graft Crackdown
Ousted Politburo member Bo Xilai remained defiant as his corruption trial ended with prosecutors calling for a severe punishment, in a case the Communist Party called proof of its determination to target high-level graft.
Bo accused his former police chief, who testified at the trial in the eastern Chinese city of Jinan, of being in love with his wife as he again asserted his innocence of the bribery, embezzlement and power-abuse charges against him. The bribery claim was something “even the lousiest TV drama scriptwriter wouldn’t create,” he said.
Bo’s rebuttals yesterday concluded a five-day trial in which the court posted transcripts online, an unprecedented move that state media called evidence of the proceedings’ transparency. The party is seeking to win over a public that’s increasingly well-informed -- and unafraid to speak out -- about official corruption that President Xi Jinping has said threatens its grip on power.
“The judgment and the sentence may be pre-ordained, but they took the risk to let him speak,” said Jean-Pierre Cabestan, a political science professor at Hong Kong Baptist University. “The question among the public is that many other leaders may be corrupt the same way. They enjoy so much power and there are no checks and balances.” The official Xinhua News Agency said the verdict would be announced at a date still to be decided.
Bo, a former commerce minister, governor and mayor, was accused of taking more than 21 million yuan ($3.4 million), embezzling 5 million yuan and covering up his wife Gu Kalai’s role in the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood. Once a rising political star, Bo’s downfall in March last year posed the biggest crisis to the Communist Party since the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.
In the months since, the party has begun an anti-corruption campaign and sought to curb lavish spending and ostentatious displays by cadres. Yesterday Xinhua said a deputy general manager at China National Petroleum Corp., parent of Hong Kong-traded PetroChina Co., was put under investigation for suspected violations of discipline -- party language for corruption-related allegations.
PetroChina said today three senior managers resigned and shares were suspended in Hong Kong today.
China Mobile Communications Corp., the state-owned parent of the world’s largest mobile phone company by users, announced earlier this month it removed the head of its Guangdong unit amid an investigation for discipline violations. Last month, former Railways Minister Liu Zhijun was given a suspended death sentence for abuse of power and taking bribes.
Bo insisted during his trial that while he made mistakes in his career, he didn’t commit any crimes, according to transcripts released by the court in Jinan.
He sought to discredit those who testified against him, calling his wife crazy, comparing a former businessman in Dalian to a wild biting dog and saying his former police chief in the city of Chongqing, Wang Lijun, had lied.
Prosecutors’ claims and Bo’s testimony 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.
During the trial, Bo said his wife had tried to turn him against his son from a previous marriage and favor Bo Guagua, the son she had with him. Gu was convicted last year of murdering Heywood and given a suspended death sentence.
“Kailai was doing all she can to make me feel that Bo Guagua is good and Bo Wangzhi is not,” Bo said, according to the transcript.
Bo admitted to having extramarital affairs, saying Gu’s anger upon learning about his infidelity was the reason she went to live abroad with Bo Guagua. He said Wang had a crush on Gu, and to counter claims that he and his family had taken bribes, Bo said he was a simple man.
“I am not interested in what I wear,” Bo said. “I have a pair of cotton pants that my mother gave me in the 1960s.”
The court’s decision to post transcripts stood in contrast to the trials of Gu and Wang, who was sentenced to 15 years in jail for bribery, abuse of power and other charges related to the cover-up of Heywood’s murder.
Neither of those trials lasted more than two days, neither person made a public defense, no running transcripts were made available and both confessed.
The government detailed Bo’s trial to meet public demand and head off skepticism that it would be another “simple political performance with a fixed result,” said Zhang Qianfan, a law professor at Peking University.
“Basically it is a drama directed in a European and American way,” Zhang said.
Transcripts of the trial were edited, with some details taken out after appearing briefly online, including a section about directives that Bo allegedly received about handling Wang Lijun’s case last year.
The charges against Bo skirted other possible crimes, including human rights violations and interference in the judicial system when he was Chongqing’s Communist Party leader from 2007 until early 2012, Zhang said.
Prosecutors said yesterday the facts are clear and the evidence is sufficient that Bo is guilty of all charges, according to a posting on the court’s microblog.
“The suspect’s crimes are serious, and given that he doesn’t admit to them, he should not be entitled to more lenient punishment in the eyes of the law,” prosecutors said, according to one transcript.
“The determination to punish corruption is always a requirement for party discipline,” the party’s People’s Daily newspaper said of Bo’s trial in a commentary to be published today. The commentary was carried on Xinhua last night.
While that commentary touted the court’s transparency, Xinhua also reported yesterday that police detained at least two online rumor-mongers. Celebrity bloggers sometimes propagate false information, which can “mislead the public and disrupt social order,” Xinhua said, and spreading rumors violates “both morality and the law.”
Even if the trial remained tightly controlled, Chinese leaders are trying give the impression they care about rule of law, and that could have a positive effect, said Jerome Cohen, a New York University law professor and expert on China’s legal system.
“The most important aspect of the case to me is its vivid demonstration of the right of the accused to defend himself,” Cohen said. Bo was allowed to rebut testimony “in a rather free-wheeling way that I hope will set a precedent for the country,” he said.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rosalind Mathieson at email@example.com