A higher-level provincial court on Friday upheld the life imprisonment sentence awarded in September to the former Politburo member Bo Xilai, rejecting the once powerful politician’s appeal against charges of corruption and abuse of power.
The Shandong High People’s Court on Friday morning said it "affirmed the original sentence of life imprisonment", Xinhua reported.
Mr. Bo was sentenced by the Jinan Intermediate People’s Court – a lower-level court in Shandong province – after being found guilty of accepting more than 20 million Yuan (Rs. 20 crore) in bribes and helping cover up the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood, who had been poisoned by Mr. Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai.
At the trial, Mr. Bo mounted an unexpected and strong defence, accusing Communist Party of China (CPC) investigators of coercing a confession and alleging that he had been denied a fair hearing.
Mr. Bo’s appeal, however, had little chance of succeeding. In China, the courts are under the control of the CPC. High-profile political trials are carefully choreographed affairs, with outcomes determined in advance by internal Party deliberations.
Mr. Bo’s sentence is the highest awarded to a Politburo member in decades. The last two high-ranking leaders who were sentenced were the Shanghai Party Secretary Chen Liangyu – given 18 years in prison in
2008 for embezzlement and abuse of power – and former Beijing Party boss Chen Xitong, who was given a 16-year jail term in 1998 for corruption.
While both those cases were also seen in China as triggered by factional in-fighting, Mr. Bo’s especially attracted wide attention because of his special status as a Party “princeling”. Mr. Bo’s father, Bo Yibo, was a well-known and powerful CPC revolutionary leader and associate of Mao Zedong.
The younger Bo rose quickly through Party ranks, seen as crucial member of the “second Red generation” of CPC leaders who were taking control of the party. The current President and General Secretary Xi Jinping is another Red princeling – his father Xi Zhongxun was a contemporary of Bo Yibo’s.
Mr. Bo also emerged as a key player in renewed ideological debates that were surfacing within the CPC ahead of its once-in-ten-year leadership change last year. During his time as the Party boss in Chongqing, he emerged as a poster-boy of the Left through his social welfare focused “Chongqing model”, which won him wide popularity in the municipality through expanding low-income housing projects and easing restrictions that limit welfare benefits for migrant workers.
At the same time, Mr. Bo’s authoritarian rule divided opinion. He launched a nationally-famous corruption crackdown that broke up the notorious Chongqing mafia. But the hard-line approach of his former police chief and right-hand man, Wang Lijun, generated alarm, as lawyers were locked up and businessmen saw their assets seized by the State with little recourse to remedy. The Bo family also came to run the administration as their fiefdom, as businessmen close to them made fortunes through their political connections.
For some, Mr. Bo’s attempt to revive Mao-era propaganda campaigns – such as mass rallies and “Red song” concerts – was an uncomfortable invocation of a troubled chapter in China’s history. His critics saw Mr. Bo’s populism as a thinly-disguised grab for power aimed at securing for himself a prominent position following the leadership change.
Mr. Bo’s rise to the top of the Party came to an unexpected – and dramatic – end last year, when his former police chief, Mr. Wang, fled to a United States Consulate in Chengdu in February, seeking protection after falling out with his boss. Mr. Wang’s flight to the Embassy of China’s greatest rival embarrassed the Party, and all but ended Mr. Bo’s career.
Their falling out was triggered by the scandal involving the murder of Heywood, a British associate of the Bo family who had been poisoned by Mr. Bo’s wife. Mr. Wang had helped the Bos cover-up the murder.
The unease caused by Mr. Bo’s politics was evident in a rare public criticism against his rule voiced by the former Premier Wen Jiabao, who at the Parliament session in March last year accused him of violating the consensus reached by the CPC in 1978 to draw a line over Mao’s Cultural Revolution and to take forward reforms.
The scandal provided the opportunity for Mr. Bo’s many detractors in the Party to halt his rise up the party ranks. After his sacking in March 2012 – a month after Mr. Wang’s flight to the U.S. Embassy – Mr. Bo and his associates were detained by party investigators.
His wife, Gu Kailai, was given a suspended death sentence – likely to be reduced to a life term – while Mr. Wang was given a 15-year jail term. Their relatively lighter sentences were seen as a reward for their cooperating with Party authorities.
Mr. Bo, however, remained defiant until the end, openly accusing the CPC of denying him a fair trial. The rejection of his appeal, however, has all but ended his controversial – and colourful – political career.