BEIJING – The dramatic trial of fallen Chinese politician Bo Xilai ended Monday with prosecutors pushing for a heavy sentence over a murder and corruption scandal that shook the Communist Party.
Bo’s crimes of bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power were “extremely serious” and there were no mitigating factors, they said. The description is a key factor in Chinese sentencing, where courts must generally find both conditions apply if they are to impose the death penalty.
Analysts widely believe that despite the drama of the five-day trial, which has seen Bo mount a feisty defense, a guilty verdict is a foregone conclusion and a long prison sentence has already been agreed.
The Intermediate People’s Court in Jinan said on its verified account on Sina Weibo, a Chinese equivalent of Twitter, that it will give its verdict at a later date.
Under Chinese law the death penalty is available for cases of bribery involving more than 100,000 yuan ($16,000) and the prosecution told the court: “The defendant’s crimes are extremely serious.”
“He pleaded not guilty to the charges, and there are no extenuating circumstances suggesting lighter punishment. It must be dealt with severely according to the law.”
Throughout the trial — originally expected to last only two days — the court posted regular but delayed transcripts of the proceedings on its Weibo account, in a move hailed by state media as unprecedented transparency.
But no foreign media were present in court and no independent verification was possible.
The delays in posting the transcripts lengthened as the trial went on, and Monday’s posting of the prosecutor’s address was taken down within minutes of being published. It was re-posted and taken down again, before being republished once more with one section deleted.
In it, Bo had claimed to have been acting on orders from his “superiors” when he obtained a fake medical certificate about Wang Lijun, his police chief and right-hand man when he was party chief of the southwestern mega-city of Chongqing, who had fled to a U.S. Consulate.
Wang’s attempt to seek asylum revealed the scandal surrounding the death of British businessman Neil Heywood, for which the politician’s wife, Gu Kailai, was convicted of murder.
During the proceedings Bo dismissed Gu as “insane,” launched a scathing attack on Wang as “full of lies and fraud,” and compared another prosecution witness to a “mad dog.”
On Monday he said that Wang had been in love with Gu and had been “confused and overwhelmed” by his feelings. Bo had confessed while under interrogation, he said, because he “still had a hope at the time, which was to keep my party membership and to keep my political career alive.”The politician had earlier admitted mistakes relating to the investigation into Heywood’s killing and “some responsibility” for embezzled state funds that were transferred to one of Gu’s bank accounts, but denied all the charges.
His defiance astonished a public unfamiliar with the open airing of top-level intrigue and was in stark contrast to previous Chinese political trials, in which most defendants have humbly confessed their crimes in opaque court proceedings.
Margaret Lewis, professor at Seton Hall Law School in the U.S. and an expert in Chinese law, pointed out: “In China, like many other countries, most defendants plead guilty, whether or not it is a case with political implications.
“In part this is because of a general policy in China of ‘leniency for those who confess, severity for those who resist.’ “
The scandal that brought Bo down erupted in advance of a shift in power atop China’s factionalized Communist Party.
Revelations of private jet flights, luxury villas and rare animal meats have held Chinese Internet users spellbound. On Monday, Bo attempted to counter accounts of his family’s luxury lifestyle by noting that his underwear was five decades old.
Bo — who always appeared well-dressed in his heyday — told the court he was a simple man. “I am personally not interested in clothing. The long johns I am wearing now were bought for me by my mother in the 1960s,” he said.
But virtually nothing was said publicly of Bo’s links with other top Communist Party leaders — even though he was once one of the 25 highest-ranking members of the ruling party and tipped to ascend even higher.