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China court rejects Bo final appeal over bribery

AFP-JIJI

A Chinese court on Friday rejected fallen politician Bo Xilai’s appeal against his conviction and confirmed his life sentence, state media reported, a ruling likely to seal his fate as authorities look to close a damaging scandal.

“The Shandong High Court rejected the appeal and upheld the first-instance life sentence verdict on Bo Xilai’s bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power case,” the official Xinhua news agency said on the Weibo microblogging site.

Until 2012, Bo headed the southwestern megacity of Chongqing, and was one of China’s highest-ranked politicians.

Chinese courts are tightly controlled by the ruling Communist Party.

Security was heavy around the courthouse in Jinan, the capital of the eastern province of Shandong, with hundreds of police officers stationed every few meters around the building and the surrounding streets blocked off, with nearby shops closed.

A few minutes before the hearing was due to start a convoy of cars and minibuses with darkened windows passed by and entered the compound, suggesting that Bo had arrived.

Bo was last month condemned to life imprisonment on charges of bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power, after a spectacular downfall that exposed infighting within the Communist Party ahead of a once-in-a-decade transition of power.

The courts have no further obligation to reconsider his case after the appeal, lawyers said, and Bo is unlikely to appear in public again.

He was not present for the consideration of his appeal, which took place earlier this month in a “closed hearing,” a lawyer with direct knowledge of the case said.

Friday’s court decision “will be the final verdict. After that, the process is over,” the lawyer said.

According to Chinese law, Bo will not be able to lodge any further formal appeals, and while he can submit a “petition” to China’s Supreme Court, it is not required to take further action.

Analysts have said that the verdict against Bo was decided as a result of backroom bargaining among elite members of the Communist Party — some of whom are still thought to be allies of his.

“From the beginning, the verdict was not totally the court’s decision . . . it’s very likely that top leaders played a role,” said He Weifang, a law professor at Peking University.

Bo, whose father was one of Communist China’s “eight immortals,” its most prominent revolutionary leaders, was ousted last year after a lurid scandal that saw his wife convicted of the murder of a British businessman.

Bo’s trial in August revealed a lifestyle far in excess of what Communist Party officials on modest salaries should be able to afford, with evidence of bribes from rich businessmen, including a close associate who bought his family a villa in France.

His defiance over the course of the hearings 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.

Bo’s populist policies in Chongqing won him supporters across China, but his openly ambitious approach also alienated other top party leaders, who saw it as harking back to a bygone era of strongman rule.

The decision comes as the party attempts to show it is cracking down on corruption and government waste.