China

Ousted politician Bo Xilai goes on trial in China

Ousted politician Bo Xilai goes on trial in China
Bo Xilai. Photo: REUTERS
Published: 12:00 PM, August 22, 2013
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BEIJING - Disgraced populist politician Bo Xilai went on trial today (Aug 22) accused of abuse of power and netting more than S$4 million (S$5.1 million) in bribery and embezzlement, marking the ruling Communist Party’s attempts to put to rest one of China’s most lurid political scandals in decades.

Bo entered the courthouse under police escort in the eastern city of Jinan, the court said, in closely choreographed proceedings held under extremely tight security, with police sealing off nearby roads with red and yellow traffic barriers. Though kept far away from the media, some of Bo’s supporters gathered outside the perimeter, intermittently yelling out, “He served the people!” and “He was a good cadre!”

Once the powerful party boss in the megacity of Chongqing, the charismatic Bo became the most senior leader to fall from power in years after revelations emerged early last year that his wife had killed a British businessman.

Bo’s removal marked China’s biggest upheaval in the leadership since the violent suppression of the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests in 1989. Bo’s revival of the symbolism of Mao Zedong’s radical era had unnerved China’s previous leadership, although current leader Xi Jinping, installed last fall, has appeared keen to adopt his own brand of Mao-like tactics.

Five of Bo’s relatives attended the trial, the Jinan Intermediate People’s Court said in a stream of posts on its Sina Weibo microblog, though the relatives were not identified. The postings were a rare display of openness for a high-profile political trial in China. Journalists from foreign media outlets were kept from the courtroom, but the court said 19 reporters were among the 110 people attending the trial.

“All the seats are filled and all is in good order,” the court said.

The scandal was triggered last year when Bo’s police chief, a top aide, fled to a United States consulate in a neighbouring city, an event that embarrassed the party’s leadership ahead of a key political transition. It would later emerge that the police chief had evidence of the Briton’s murder in late 2011, making the Bo family an international diplomatic liability for the leadership.

The charges against Bo, analysts have said, appear carefully calibrated to lay blame on the self-serving actions of Bo and his family and provide enough culpability to end his political career, while avoiding broader allegations that could expose the impunity with which top Chinese officials are believed to operate before they fall from favour.

Prosecutors accused Bo of accepting bribes amounting to more than 20 million yuan (S$4.2 million) when he was posted to the eastern city of Dalian from 1999 to last year. They said he took the bribes either directly, through his wife, or through his son, Bo Guagua, from two entities: Dalian International Development and Dalian Shide, according to the court’s reports of the proceedings.

He also was accused of embezzling 5 million yuan from a public construction project in a transaction that also involved his wife.

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