Fallen Chinese Politburo Member Bo Appeals Graft Conviction

Ousted Chinese Politburo member Bo Xilai appealed his conviction for bribery, abuse of power and embezzlement, maintaining his innocence after a trial that resulted in a life prison sentence.

The Shandong Provincial Higher People’s Court agreed to hear the appeal, according to a statement posted on the court’s website yesterday. Bo was convicted and sentenced Sept. 22, a month after his five-day trial ended.

An appeal, while unlikely to overturn the conviction, may result in a reduced sentence for Bo, the former Chongqing municipality party secretary who was mentioned as a possible candidate for the ruling Politburo Standing Committee before his ouster last year. Throughout his trial, Bo jousted with the judge hearing his case and insisted he never broke the law.

“He still wants to retain the chance of a political comeback,” Joseph Cheng, a professor of political science at City University of Hong Kong, said. “It is likely there will be a reconsideration but I don’t think the court will change the verdict.”

Bo was found guilty of taking 20.4 million yuan ($3.3 million) in bribes, embezzling 5 million yuan and abusing power in the death of British businessman Neil Heywood. Prosecutors alleged that Bo tried to cover up his wife Gu Kailai’s involvement in Heywood’s murder.

Party Interrogation

One weak link in the prosecution is the use of evidence obtained from interrogation done while Bo was in Communist Party custody, Lin Yan, an associate professor at Shanghai Jiao Tong University’s KoGuan Law School, said in an e-mail. The party has its own enforcement system that can place cadres under what is known as “shuanggui,” before they are turned over to the legal system.

The success of the appeal will depend on whether there is new evidence, said Li Zhuang, a defense lawyer. While Bo was party secretary of Chongqing, Li was jailed for 18 months after being convicted of inciting his client to commit perjury by telling the court he was tortured into a false confession, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.

“I hope that his legal rights can be protected by law -- to appeal is his right,” Li said by telephone. “I hope that we can see the evidence in the second trial.”

Party Conclave

The Communist Party may want to wrap up Bo’s appeal before a party conclave in November where President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang may push for new financial policies that could reshape China’s economy for the next decade. The plenum is expected to discuss deepening reforms and achieving stable economic development, Xinhua reported.

Bo’s trial broke with precedent as the party let the court release edited transcripts of his defense. Bo called the bribery charges something “even the lousiest TV drama scriptwriter wouldn’t create,” according to transcripts from the court in the city of Jinan, where the trial took place.

The sentence fits into a broader campaign against corruption that Xi has said poses a threat to Communist Party rule. Since Bo’s trial in August, Xi’s anti-graft campaign has focused on people tied to Zhou Yongkang, until last year head of China’s security services. Zhou praised Bo’s achievements in Chongqing just days before Bo was ousted from the job.

Strong Man

“If Mr. Xi does decide to go after Zhou Yongkang formally, if would have indicated that he is extraordinarily determined, that he is willing to stand up and become the strong man of the era,” said Dali Yang, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago, said before the court announcement. “It would also risk sending a lot of chills and potentially also cause trouble that could be unanticipated.”

Prosecutors’ claims and Bo’s testimony during his trial 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.

In a letter to his family, Bo wrote that his name will be cleared one day, the South China Morning Post reported Sept. 19. Like his father, who was jailed and then rehabilitated, Bo said he would “wait quietly in prison,” the SCMP quoted the letter as saying. “My father was jailed many times. I will follow in his footsteps.”

— With assistance by Michael Forsythe

(Updates with analyst comment in sixth paragraph.)
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