Today, the 64-year-old former Communist Party chief of the southwestern city of Chongqing, Bo Xilai, has undergone his fifth day of trial under accusations of bribery, corruption and abuse of power.
Amongst his charges are receiving 21.8 million Yuan ($3.5 million USD) in bribes from plastics-to-property entrepreneur Xu Ming, embezzling 5 million Yuan ($816,000 USD) from a government project in Dalian, and abusing his power by punching his right-hand man, Wang Lijun, before ousting him from his position. The latter has effectively led to the greatest of Bo’s scandals, as well as his removal from office.
Wang, who served as the police chief of Chongqing, had informed Bo Xilai that his wife was suspected of murder. In a move to cover up this rumor, Bo physically attacked Wang and demoted him. Contrary to Bo’s expectations, this metaphorical conflagration expanded to international proportions when Wang fled to the U.S. consulate in Chengdu on February 6th, 2012, with evidence that Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, had killed British businessman Neil Heywood. She has already been convicted of murder.
According to Reuters, this is China’s biggest political scandal since the 1976 downfall of the Gang of Four at the end of the Cultural Revolution. It comes during a delicate phase of transition for China, when President Xi Jinping is carefully trying to eliminate the party’s corruption at all levels, by fighting both “tigers” and “flies”. Ironically, President Xi’s fight could entail the downfall of the Communist Party itself.
Bo, son of one of the eight founders of the Communist Party, is certainly one of those tigers. His trial will probably find him guilty, and while there’s a slight chance he could face a death sentence, he is more likely to receive either life imprisonment or a 20-year term. Whatever the outcome, this is a historic trial that will testify to Xi Jinping’s and China’s commitment to the rule of law. Or so we’d like to believe.
Al Jazeera quotes a transcript of court proceedings: “The defendant's crimes are extremely grave, and he also refuses to admit guilt. As such, the circumstances do not call for a lenient punishment but a severe one, in accordance with the law.” Yet while the Chinese government is trying to make the trial pass as being legitimate, it is already clear to many that this is not the case.
Some observers suggest that Bo’s sentence might be pre-arranged; a legally well-fought trial in exchange for a set outcome.
Reuters quotes Nicholas Bequelin, researcher for Human Rights Watch, as saying, “There's probably an agreement already between Bo and the party as to what the outcome will be.”
The same news agency quotes Zhang Sizhi, who defended Mao Zedong's widow Jiang Qing during the Gang of Four trial in 1980: “He knows exactly what to say and what not to say ... It seems some sort of understanding was reached ahead of time.”
The BBC explains that foreign media do not have access to the courtroom. The court in Jinan decided to post regular updates on China's Twitter-like micro-blogging site, Weibo, regarding the status of the trial. However, only 409,000 people (out of China’s 1.34 billion, and 600+ million netizens) signed up to follow the tweets. It’s not hard to understand why: tweeting about a trial is as good as being told second-hand about a popular soap opera. The words can easily be rewritten and reinterpreted at will.
The handful of Weibo messages by netizens in response to the trial that are permitted to remain endorse the government's handling of the case, whereas the vitriolic ones are rapidly being censored.
During the proceedings, many additional issues arose such as Bo’s extramarital affairs (for which he has been nicknamed “Bo Qilai,” or “Erect Mr Bo“) and quarrels over a villa on the French Riviera. Bo has denied all charges against him.
CNN reports, the Jinan Intermediate People's Court stated today that it will announce this trial’s verdict at a later date.