Prosecutors have called for “a heavy sentence” for Bo Xilai as his five-day trial closed on Monday afternoon with a dramatic statement from the former Politburo member.
Delivering a 90-minute closing speech in a style that served as a reminder as to how the once powerful “princeling” emerged as one of China’s most charismatic and popular politicians before his stunning fall from grace, Mr. Bo rebutted allegations accusing him of corruption and covering up a British business associate’s murder.
The speech was a fitting denouement to a dramatic trial that has, over the past five days, captivated observers in China for its lurid insights into the one of the Communist Party of China’s (CPC) most powerful “Red families”.
Perhaps the most dramatic revelation was saved for the last day, as Mr. Bo suggested that his wife was having “an illicit relationship” with his former deputy, the police chief Wang Lijun, triggering the falling out between the two men that led Mr. Wang to flee to a U.S. Consulate in Chengdu. Mr. Wang’s attempted defection in February 2012 blew the scandal into the open and ultimately triggered the downfall of Mr. Bo just as he was preparing to assume a key role in the new Chinese leadership that came to power last year.
Mr. Bo also suggested that unnamed “superiors” in the Party may have advised his handling of Mr. Wang’s defection, although he was careful enough to not name them. This revelation, which was detailed in the updates provided by the court in Jinan, in north-eastern Shandong, on its microblog, was deleted from later transcripts.
By allowing the trial to continue for five days, with its proceedings providing an unusual level of detail that has surprised even the CPC’s critics, the Party has tried to bestow some legitimacy on a trial whose outcome is widely believed to have already been decided in internal deliberations.
However, although Mr. Bo was allowed to make his case, the court has been selective in its announcements. For instance, it emerged that Mr. Bo had accused investigators of pressuring him to confess. He had also questioned the fairness of the trial, saying that the Party had, in earlier high-profile cases, threatened those who contested charges by giving them lengthier sentences disproportionate to their crimes, while giving lighter sentences to those who cooperated with Party investigators. Neither remark was published by the court.
In their closing argument, prosecutors said “a heavy sentence in line with the law should be handed to Bo, as he committed very serious crimes and refused to plead guilty”. His charges include receiving bribes amounting to 28 million Yuan (Rs. 28 crore), most of which were routed by businessman Xu Ming to his family, and covering up the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood, who was poisoned by Mr. Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai. A verdict will be announced at a date to be decided, the court said.
Mr. Bo strongly denied the corruption charges, saying he was unaware of his family’s relationship with Mr. Xu, but accepted that he “did not manage my family members and subordinates well. “I apologise to the party and the masses,” he said.
He added, “If I had looked into things like flight tickets, accommodation expenses, travel expenses, I think neither Dalian [where he served as Party Secretary] nor negotiations at the Ministry of Commerce [where he was minister] could have been successful."
He also said he was willing to accept responsibility for his former deputy Wang Lijun’s flight to the U.S. Consulate, which embarrassed the CPC ahead of last year’s leadership change, but denied he had covered up Heywood’s murder. He questioned the motives of Mr. Wang, who was, last year, sentenced to 15 years in prison for defection and bribery. Mr. Wang, he alleged, “had a very special relationship” with his wife Gu Kailai, adding that the two were “like glue and paint".
“The real reason [for the defection]… is that he had hidden feelings for Gu Kailai. He was consumed with these feelings and couldn’t control himself," Mr. Bo said.
In closing remarks that are likely to go down well with his many supporters on the Left, who gravitated towards the ambitious “princeling” for his populist, welfare-focused and hardline “Chongqing model” of politics, Mr. Bo said the scandal had not entirely extinguished his political ambitions. “There was hope in my heart that I could preserve my party membership and my life in politics,” he said.