BEIJING – Fallen Chinese politician Bo Xilai launched a scathing attack Saturday on a key witness in his corruption trial, saying even the stupidest official knows not to discuss bribery where he can be overheard.
During the trial, Bo admitted “some responsibility” for 5 million yuan ($820,000) of embezzled public funds, his first confession in a dramatic trial that has gripped millions.
Bo denies embezzling the money, intended for a local government construction project, but said: “I feel I should take some responsibility” for the money ending up in his wife, Gu Kailai’s, bank account and for failing to investigate.
“I feel ashamed. I was too careless, because these are state funds,” he said according to transcripts that the Intermediate People’s Court in Jinan, in eastern China, is providing on its account on Sina Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter.
The court’s release of trial proceedings is in sharp contrast with the August 2012 conviction of Gu in the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood, when she pleaded guilty in daylong proceedings but scant details were released.
Bo’s trial had been expected to be similarly swift, but observers say that giving him a chance to defend himself helps lend a veneer of legitimacy to what is widely seen as a political show trial. The trial has focused attention on Bo’s alleged economic and official misdeeds and avoided discussing the threat he posed to China’s leadership in his pursuit of a seat at the apex of power ahead of last year’s leadership transition.
“The leadership wants to have a trial that’s seen as fair. You can’t have a completely secret trial in today’s China; it would be an embarrassment,” said Brookings Institution scholar Cheng Li. “Bo Xilai is taking advantage of that trial to continue to perform as he did before.”
The scandal, which has rocked the ruling Communist Party, was triggered by the death of Heywood and the courtroom drama has gripped the nation.
Later Saturday, Wang Lijun, who was the police chief and Bo’s right-hand man in the mega-city of Chongqing, appeared in court to testify against him, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
Last year Wang was sentenced to 15 years in prison for a range of crimes including abuse of power relating to the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood by Bo’s wife.
Bo’s performance has been defiant, denying bribe-taking and embezzlement. Accusations of abuse of power had yet to be addressed as the trial — which had widely been expected to be only two days long — moved into a third day.
Wang Zhenggang, a former planning official in Dalian, where Bo was mayor in the 1990s, told the court Bo had telephoned Gu in front of him and told her to take delivery of 5 million yuan ($820,000) from a local government construction project.
Bo said the claim of a phone call did not make sense. “It is not even what the stupidest corruption offender would do,” he said. “Corrupt offenders with even the lowest IQ would ask who else in Dalian was aware of the money.”
He added: “All those who know me know that I ask them to switch off their mobile phones before I speak. I am quite cautious.”
The scandal erupted in advance of a generational shift of power atop the factionalized Communist Party, and Bo’s feisty performance during his trial has astonished a public unfamiliar with the open airing of top-level intrigue.
Revelations of private jet flights, luxury villas and rare animal meats have held Chinese readers spellbound, while Bo has showed open disdain for prosecution witnesses, including Gu, whom Friday he derided as “insane.”
Nonetheless, analysts still believe a guilty verdict and long prison sentence have been settled upon beforehand.
State-run media heaped praise on the trial, calling it a landmark in the history of Chinese jurisprudence.
“This degree of transparency has not happened before,” the Global Times newspaper, which has close ties to the Communist Party, said in an editorial. “This will create a precedent that will bring lasting impact to the future trials of sensitive cases.”
It described the Weibo postings as a “live feed” and said it “served as an important guarantee of a fair trial for Bo in accordance with the law.”
“The live show has addressed various doubts and rumors in and outside China, the paper said. “It demonstrated that the authorities are ready to receive more public scrutiny.”
Calls by ordinary Chinese citizens for greater official transparency have been mounting, the Global Times said.
“For a while, the Chinese public has been complaining about injustice in constant news reports of scandals or social issues,” the paper said.
“The open and transparent trial of Bo provided a different picture to the public, which will significantly change the image of the judicial system.
“The most important thing now is to have a fair trial for Bo’s case, which will naturally boost the public’s confidence,” the paper said.