The former Communist Party of China (CPC) Politburo member Bo Xilai was on Thursday formally charged with bribery and abuse of power, paving the way for the once influential “princeling” to stand trial soon.
Mr. Bo, earlier the Chongqing Party chief, was sacked in March 2012 after a scandal that shed a rare spotlight on the internal struggles for power and ideological divisions straining the CPC ahead of a crucial leadership transition.
Mr. Bo is expected to stand trial in Jinan, in northeastern Shandong province. The indictment paper listing charges of bribery, embezzlement and power abuse was delivered to the Jinan City Intermediate People’s Court on Thursday, according to the official Xinhua news agency.
The document said Mr. Bo had “embezzled a huge amount of public money and abused his power, seriously harming the interests of the state and people”. It also accused the former Politburo member of taking “advantage of his position to seek profits for others” and “accepting an ‘extremely large amount’ of money and properties”.
Mr. Bo will be the highest-ranked CPC official to stand trial since the former Politburo member and Shanghai Party Chief Chen Liangyu, who, in April 2008, was also charged with bribery and abuse of power. Mr. Chen then received an 18-year jail-term.
Like that trial, Mr. Bo’s will also be a carefully choreographed affair, party analysts say, with the sentence expected to have already been agreed upon by the CPC’s Politburo and retired Party elders in internal deliberations. A Politburo meeting in September last year already approved of an internal investigation report detailing Mr. Bo’s “severe disciplinary violations”.
In addition to financial misdemeanours, Mr. Bo, who served on the powerful 25-member Politburo before his expulsion last year, is also likely to face charges regarding the cover-up of the murder of the Bo family's British business associate Neil Heywood.
Mr. Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, was in August given a suspended death sentence with a two-year reprieve – which could be shortened to 25 years or less on medical grounds – for poisoning Heywood, who was initially declared dead as a result of “excessive alcohol consumption” in October 2011 by Chongqing police authorities.
The trial last year lifted the veil on the murky dealings of the Bo family, seen by many in China as emblematic of the rampant corruption prevalent even in the party’s highest ranks.
A fall-out between Mr. Bo and his right-hand-man Wang Lijun, who served as the police chief in Chongqing, brought the murder scandal into the open. In February 2012, Mr. Wang fled to a U.S. Consulate in Chengdu fearing for his life after he had attempted to blackmail Mr. Bo for support, as he faced a corruption investigation, by threatening to expose his wife.
The scandal embarrassed the CPC a month before a crucial Parliament session in March 2012 that was set to pave the way for a new leadership to take over at a November leadership transition.
Before Mr. Wang’s unexpected flight to the U.S. Consulate, Mr. Bo had been seen by many as a front-runner to secure a seat on the next Politburo – and as a possible rival power centre to the anointed new leader, and fellow “princeling”, Xi Jinping.
Mr. Bo enjoyed close ties with many conservative elders in the Party – some of whom had links to his once influential father, a revolutionary elder Bo Yibo – and with those on the Left for his neo-Maoist campaigns in Chongqing.
Mr. Bo’s policies in Chongqing were praised by many scholars on the Left for giving more attention to social inequalities, with his “Chongqing model” seen by them as challenging the consensus on taking forward market reforms.
The March Parliament meeting, which took place under a cloud following Wang Lijun's flight to the U.S. Consulate, brought into the open for the first time in decades ideological divisions within the CPC over the Bo Xilai affair.
During the March Parliament session, Mr. Bo hit out at his critics and said vested interests were maligning him. He further underscored his appeal with the Left by defending his Chongqing model and hitting out at those who wanted to make China “a Capitalist society”.
He was, however, publicly chastised by the then Premier Wen Jiabao, who at his last press conference criticised Mr. Bo for questioning the consensus the CPC had adopted in 1978 to draw the line over the Cultural Revolution and take forward market reforms.
A day later, Mr. Bo was sacked as Chongqing Party, bringing a dramatic end to his fast rise up the party hierarchy.