Bo Xilai sentenced to life, found guilty on all charges – Ananth Krishnan

September 21, 2013 at 11:49 pm



In this Aug. 25, 2013 file photo taken from video, former Politburo member and Chongqing city party leader Bo Xilai speaks in a court at Intermediate People's Court in Jinan, in eastern China's Shandong province.
AP In this Aug. 25, 2013 file photo taken from video, former Politburo member and Chongqing city party leader Bo Xilai speaks in a court at Intermediate People’s Court in Jinan, in eastern China’s Shandong province.

Former Politburo member Bo Xilai was on Sunday handed a heavier than expected sentence of life in prison, as the court in this northeastern Chinese province found the once powerful “princeling” politician guilty on all charges of bribery, graft and abuse of power.

The court said he had been found guilty of accepting bribes in excess of 20 million Yuan (around Rs. 20 crore). It rejected all arguments put forward by Mr. Bo’s defence, ruling that the testimonies provided by his wife, Gu Kailai, and business tycoon Xu Ming, had been corroborated.

Mr. Bo had argued in court at last month’s trial that he was unaware of his family’s business dealings with Mr. Xu, who was found to have paid out more than 20 million Yuan (around Rs. 20 crore) to the family even as he built his business empire, in northeastern Dalian, on Mr. Bo’s watch.

The court said Mr. Bo (64) would serve a life term in prison, as well as 15 years for embezzlement. The terms would be served concurrently.

Before Sunday, Mr. Bo’s lawyers and supporters – particularly conservatives and those on the Left who had backed the hard-line, Neo-Maoist and populist politics he engineered as party boss in Chongqing – had expectations of a lighter 15 year jail term.

But the heavy sentence makes clear that the new leadership under Xi Jinping, which has spoken of using this case to send a strong message on tackling graft, was keen to underscore its seriousness in dealing with the issue amid increasing public dissatisfaction on official corruption.

Mr. Bo has 10 days to appeal the decision at a higher provincial court in Shandong. But in the Chinese one-party system, where the courts are under the ruling party’s thumb, sentences are rarely overturned.

Where Mr. Bo will serve out his term has emerged as a matter of some debate. Local media have speculated that Mr. Bo will be jailed in the Qincheng prison on Beijing’s suburbs, where politicians and those jailed for political crimes have been imprisoned in the past.

But two layers in Beijing The Hindu spoke to last week suggested such a fate was unlikely, particularly for “a princeling” with familial and patronage ties across the party. They suggested Mr. Bo might be allowed to serve his term under house arrest at his family courtyard home in central Beijing, after spending a few years in a special prison.

The last Politburo member to be sent to prison was the former Shanghai Party Chief Chen Liangyu, who was jailed for 18 years in 2008. Mr. Chen was subsequently thought to have been released on medical parole.

Sunday’s sentencing laid out, in detail, charges of bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power, appearing to almost completely endorse the case put forward by prosecutors during last month’s five-day trial.

The court rejected outright Mr. Bo’s three main points of defence: the mental instability of his wife; loopholes in the testimony of Mr. Xu, the businessman; and alleged “duress” he faced at the hands of party investigators.

In Jinan, the provincial capital of northeastern Shandong, local authorities have deployed tight security, sealing off the roads around the towering Intermediate People’s Court.

More than 570,000 people were, as of Sunday morning, following the court’s microblog account for the verdict; more than 25,000 people had, overnight, signed on to the account, reflecting interest in the case.

Mr. Bo continues to enjoy wide popularity in Chongqing and Dalian, seen as a rare charismatic Chinese politician. In Chongqing, he launched a nationally-famous corruption crackdown, dismantling the local mafia, and boosted the role of the State in social welfare projects.

Chinese progressives were, however, unsettled by his hard-line politics and his unashamed grab for power, as he locked up lawyers and rivals, and confiscated entrepreneurs’ assets in his drive to enrich the state – and, his critics allege, his business associates. His relatives also accumulated a vast fortune as he rose through the ranks, seeing themselves as Red royalty and the inheritors of the Communist revolution in which Mr. Bo’s father had played a key part.

On Sunday, dozens of policemen lined the tree-lined streets around the courtroom in Jinan. Around twenty minutes before the 10 am (7.30 am IST) sentencing, a convoy of black SUVs and buses drove into the deserted court complex.

An hour later, Mr. Bo was escorted out of the courtroom, in handcuffs, perhaps appearing in public for one last time.