RUMOURS SWIRL AROUND BO XILAI TRIAL
In January 2013, it was reported that a trial for Bo Xilai would begin immediately in south-western China. The BBC reported: “That set the rumour mill swirling. Bo Xilai's impending appearance has been called "China's trial of the century", and some say it's the most important legal event in China since the "Gang of Four" were tried in 1981. [Source: BBC, January 28, 2013]
“On the strength of it several dozen journalists, from international and Hong Kong media groups, travelled almost 1,500 miles from Beijing to the city of Guiyang over the weekend, a three-hour flight, just in case. You can see what happened early this morning here. The reporters gathered outside the court, surrounded an official who came to say there was no trial, and wouldn't leave until a formal press conference was held to confirm there really was no trial happening. Ta Kung Pao even reported on the effect of its own report.
So far, so farcical. The court officials in Guiyang had spent all day on Friday fielding phone calls from anxious reporters, and consistently denied they knew anything about the trial. On Monday, they told reporters that "if the next step is to hold the Bo Xilai trial in Guiyang's court, then, as according to the rules we will inform our media friends promptly". The Global Times' source on Monday said "the date and location of the trial will certainly be made public in advance, it's unnecessary to make speculations". But it's a measure of how little confidence many have in the pronouncements of Chinese officials that so many journalists made the trek to Guiyang, anxious the "trial of the century" may be about to happen, and fearing it was possible it could start without China telling anyone.
Now no-one wants to miss the main event, Bo's own trial, because this is a story that brings together corruption, sex, money, murder and power struggles at the very top of China's secretive Communist Party-controlled state. It's a glimpse into the world of China's elite that we rarely see.
Bo Xilai’s Lawyers Close to Party
Bo did not have his his own lawyer at the trial. Gu Yushu, an attorney hired by his family, was not been given permission to appear in court. In January 2013, Gillian Wong of Associated Press wrote: “Ousted Chinese politician Bo Xilai, will be represented by two Beijing-based attorneys from a large Chinese law firm that enjoys national prestige — and close ties to the ruling Communist Party. The outcome of Bo's case is widely assumed to be already decided by party leadership, but the appointment of prominent, though government-friendly, defense counsel could indicate the party's desire for the proceedings to appear legitimate. [Source: Gillian Wong, Associated Press January 21, 2013]
Attorney Li Guifang said he and colleague Wang Zhaofeng of the DeHeng Law Offices will represent Bo. "The case is still being investigated ... an indictment has not yet been issued," Li said in a telephone interview before declining to answer further questions. He Weifang, a Peking University law professor, said Li is a distinguished lawyer with a strong understanding of criminal law and procedure. But, He said, in a highly politicized case such as Bo's, the lawyer's skills may be inconsequential as the outcome of the case is likely predetermined by party leaders. "The most troublesome question is whether the lawyer has independence," He said. "If the trial itself is a political show, not a genuine trial, then there is not a big difference who is appointed his lawyer."
DeHeng is well-known in the Chinese legal community as one of the country's largest firms, with branches in major cities as well as overseas. On its website, the firm says it has had good relations with large state enterprises and government departments, providing legal services in projects such as the Three Gorges Dam and acting as advisers to the finance and health ministries.
The firm also enjoys favorable standing with the party leadership: China's newly appointed party leader, Xi Jinping, visited the firm's office in Beijing in 2010 and praised its efforts in promoting party ideology within its ranks, according to a report by the official Xinhua News Agency at the time. The firm's director, Wang Li, was among a group of experts from various fields who were invited to the coastal resort of Beidaihe for summer holidays last year and met with Xi. Wang appears to be a staunch party loyalist, saying in 2011 in remarks carried by the Legal Daily newspaper that lawyers in her firm need to uphold the leadership of the party.
A brief biography of Bo's lawyer Li on the firm's website describes his specialty as dispute resolution, but notes also that he is the deputy head of the criminal defense committee of the All China Lawyers' Association, China's government-controlled bar association. In a speech last year reported by a Chinese legal website, Li emphasized the importance of basing legal arguments on evidence. "Do not attempt to win the defense with strong style, but convince people with down-to-earth legal facts and evidence. In a word, you must win with reasoning and proof," Li was paraphrased as saying.
Bo Xilai Not Cooperating
In February 2013, Benjamin Kang Lim and Ben Blanchard of Reuters wrote: Bo Xilai is refusing to cooperate with a government investigation into him and has staged hunger strikes in protest and at one point was treated in hospital, sources with knowledge of the matter said. Two independent sources with ties to the family said Bo's trial was likely to be delayed until after an annual full session of parliament and its top advisory body in March because he was not physically fit. [Source: Benjamin Kang Lim and Ben Blanchard, Reuters, February 21, 2013]
"He was on hunger strike twice and force fed," one source told Reuters, requesting anonymity due to the sensitivity of the case. It was unclear how long the hunger strike lasted. "He was not tortured, but fell ill and was taken to a hospital in Beijing for treatment," the source said, declining to provide details of Bo's condition and whereabouts which have been kept under wraps since his downfall.
A second source confirmed that Bo had been on a hunger strike and also said he had refused to shave to protest against what he saw as his unfair treatment. "His beard is long, chest-length," the source said. "He refused to cooperate," the source said. "He wouldn't answer questions and slammed his fist on a table and told them they were not qualified to question him and to go away."
The recent lack of information about the case - Bo has not been seen in public since last March - harms the government's credibility in the eyes of the people, said Bao Tong, the most senior official jailed over the 1989 Tiananmen protests. "It's not normal, too much time has past," Bao told Reuters, referring to the lack of information from the government about the case. Bao was jailed for seven years for his opposition to the government decision to send in troops to crush the pro-democracy demonstrations. "They won't torture or beat him," Bao said of Bo's treatment at the hands of investigators. "I was not tortured, and he was a former Politburo member, so I don't think they will mistreat him."
Bo Guagua, Bo Xilai’s, son, said in a statement released to The New York Times that he has been denied contact with both parents for the past 18 months. [Source: Gillian Wong, Associated Press, August 20, 2013]
In May 2013, Boxun reported that Bo Xilai had confessed to some of the economic crimes of which he has been accused. Lisa Wang wrote in Shanghaist: “Bo has reportedly confessed to moving a million dollars to overseas accounts, under the names of relatives and acquaintances in the US, Britain and other countries. While the full scale of his confession may be much greater, it is likely that only some of this will be made public. According to the source, Bo Xilai's punishment will either be life imprisonment, or twenty years; the latter currently seems more likely. Although reports from US-based dissident website Boxun should usually to be taken with a pinch of salt, the site has recently been consistently churning out Bo Xilai reports with the unusual accuracy of a psychic octopus. [Source: Lisa Wang, Shanghaist, May 28, 2013]
Bo Xilai Indicted
In July 2013, Bo Xilai was indicted on criminal charges of bribery, corruption and abuse of power. The government originally implicated Bo in helping to cover up Heywood's murder, but the legal indictment issued made no mention of that. Edward Wong and Jonathan Ansfield wrote in the New York Times, “The charges were filed at a court in Jinan, the capital of Shandong Province, in eastern China, a court employee said. Officials from Shandong have been in Chongqing recently to discuss trial details there, according to one person in Chongqing with official contacts. [Source: Edward Wong and Jonathan Ansfield, New York Times, July 24, 2013]
The party’s General Office has circulated an internal document giving further details of the basis for the charges, said one person in Beijing with high-level contacts. The document accused Mr. Bo, 64, of taking about $3.3 million in bribes, embezzling almost $1 million and abusing his power as a senior official. The document also said a main source of the bribes was Xu Ming, a billionaire who lives in Dalian, the northeastern city where Mr. Bo had been the mayor.
Mr. Xu, once listed by Forbes as one of the 10 richest people in China, has been detained since spring 2012 and is also expected to be criminally charged. Mr. Xu entered into real estate ventures in Chongqing after Mr. Bo became party chief there in December 2007, and he made frequent trips on his private plane to the city. Mr. Xu was part of an inner circle of Bo family allies that included Ma Biao, a business executive, and Yu Junshi, a former military intelligence officer who served as a Bo family fixer. All were detained in spring 2012.
Several political analysts said Mr. Bo’s punishment could range from a prison term of 15 to 20 years to a suspended death sentence. Like those of his wife, Mr. Bo’s upcoming court sessions are expected to amount to little more than a show trial, in which a verdict has already been negotiated by Communist Party leaders. Mr. Bo would be the first Politburo member to be tried on criminal charges since 2008, when the former Shanghai party secretary Chen Liangyu was sentenced to 18 years in prison for corruption.
Before the Trial: Reports That Bo Xilai Will Plead Guilty to Some Charges
Three week before Bo Xilai’s trial began, Benjamin Kang Lim and Ben Blanchard of Reuters wrote: “Bo Xilai has agreed to plead guilty at a trial likely to be held within weeks, three sources said, in an apparent bid to earn a more lenient sentence and allow authorities to close the door on the country's biggest political scandal in decades. But it was not clear if he would plead guilty to all or only some of the charges of accepting bribes, corruption and abuse of power. "Bo Xilai had initially refused to admit guilt and insisted on defending himself," said a source with ties to the leadership and direct knowledge of the matter, requesting anonymity due to the political sensitivity of the case. "But in a change of heart, he cooperated and will plead guilty (at his trial) in the hope that he will receive a relatively lenient sentence," the source told Reuters. [Source: Benjamin Kang Lim and Ben Blanchard, Reuters, July 31, 2013 *-*]
“It remains to be seen if his decision to plead guilty will hold until the trial. In China, defendants are presumed guilty until proven innocent and those who refuse to cooperate are often given harsher sentences. Other sources indicated Bo may not plead guilty to the abuse of power charge. A source close to the family, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, Said Bo will plead guilty, but should not be held accountable for crimes committed by immediate family members. The source declined to elaborate. *-*
“A third source, also with ties to China's leadership, said Bo will plead guilty to accepting bribes and corruption while he was mayor and Communist Party boss of the northeastern city of Dalian between 1992 and 2000. But Bo will deny the charge of abuse of power when he was party boss of Chongqing, the source added. "By pleading not guilty to the abuse of power charge, Bo wants to show that he is a victim of a power struggle," the source told Reuters, also requesting anonymity. The source did not elaborate. He will be represented in court by his family-appointed lawyer Li, as opposed to having a state-appointed attorney forced upon him as happened to his wife, a fourth source with direct knowledge of the case told Reuters. *-*
In the end, Bo remained defiant, pleading not guilty and contesting nearly every aspect of the prosecutors’ case.
Bo Xilai Trial
The trial of Bo Xilai began in late July 2013 in Jinan, the capital of Shandong Province, southeast of Beijing. charged with taking bribes, embezzlement and abuse of power; the last charge is an accusation that he tried to obstruct an investigation into murder of Neil Heywood, presumably to protect his wife Gu Kalai. On the first day prosecutors ended months of suspense about details of the bribery charges against him, rolling out accusations that featured the French villa, a hot-air balloon project and a football club. Officials released information about the hearing through updates on a court microblog account. Transcripts released via the microblog showed Mr. Bo taking a defiant stand in the court and lashing out at the witnesses, in a style reminiscent of the showmanship that he displayed throughout his career. [Source: Associated Press , Edward Wong and Jonathan Ansfield, New York Times, August 23, 2013 ><]
Reporting on the activity on the second day, Edward Wong and Jonathan Ansfield wrote in the New York Times, “Prosecutors presented testimony that tied the murder in 2011 of a British businessman, Neil Heywood to compensation he was said to be demanding from the Bo family for his management of a villa on the French Riviera. Mr. Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, was convicted a year ago for the murder of Mr. Heywood and sentenced to a life term in prison. ><
“ And party authorities seemed to be making their case against Mr. Bo in the state media, not just in the court. After Mr. Bo’s bold defense on the first day of the trial, state news organizations issued a chorus of commentaries that said the evidence against him on the corruption and embezzlement charges was overwhelming. The commentaries lauded the trial as fair and open while ridiculing Mr. Bo’s efforts to refute the evidence and effectively prejudging him. “Confronted with the facts, Bo’s attitude was to flaunt his cunning and use a hundred kinds of denial,” said a commentary on the Web site of the Guangming Daily, a party newspaper. “The documents are there in black and white and the evidence is overwhelming. Bo Xilai’s self-defense collapsed instantly before the evidence, so that his sophistry was futile and laughable.” ><
“Though less voluminous overall than on the trial’s opening day, the transcripts released did include some instances in which Mr. Bo criticized the prosecution’s main witnesses, including his wife, Ms. Gu, who appeared in a video recording talking about the family’s finances. “How much of it is believable?” Mr. Bo said of Ms. Gu’s testimony. “She has become crazy, and she often tells lies. She was mentally unstable and under enormous pressure from the investigators to inform on me.” Although the official transcripts posted online faithfully reflected the bulk of the hearings, some colorful highlights were omitted, according to the person briefed by witnesses in the courtroom, who also has ties to justice officials. ><
“Outside of the courthouse, there was a clampdown in some corners of Jinan, in a shift from a more open atmosphere the day before. The local police tried to shoo away Chinese journalists from progressive state media outlets who were not specifically accredited to cover the trial, though foreign and some official media reporters appeared to work unimpeded. The police expanded their security cordon around the courthouse by an additional block and, by some eyewitness accounts, appeared to dispatch plainclothes officers to intimidate leftist supporters of Mr. Bo and assorted petitioners who had flocked to the courthouse and drawn the attention of international news media. The crowds of onlookers that hovered near the courthouse on the first day had thinned out considerably by the second day. ><
“Officials from the court, the police and state security held a meeting in night after the first day of the trial in Jinan, according to a person familiar with the situation, but determined that the situation was basically normal despite the uproar caused by Mr. Bo’s spirited defense. “Yesterday people around the country and even inside the courtroom were surprised by the degree of openness and Bo’s refutals of the charges, but the authorities did not seem to think that was so unexpected and considered the situation to be under control,” the person said. “The main thing was to modify the propaganda, mainly out of Beijing,” he added. ><
Conduct and Atmosphere at Bo Xilai’s Trial
Andrew Jacobs and Chris Buckley wrote in the New York Times, “The government orchestrated an unusually public and lengthy trial for Mr. Bo lasting five days, and a court microblog gave the public selective but plentiful and salacious details of the proceedings, which included allegations of adultery by both Mr. Bo and his wife, Gu Kailai. But the courtroom drama also let the public peer into a privileged world of dizzying wealth and nonchalant excess. Prosecutors described a casual rapport between Mr. Bo’s family and a businessman, Xu Ming, who paid for the travel and the extravagant purchases of Mr. Bo’s wife and younger son, including a $3.2 million villa in France, a $12,000 Segway and a flight aboard a private jet to Tanzania. [Source: Andrew Jacobs and Chris Buckley, New York Times, September 21, 2013 ***]
After the forth day of the trial, Gillian Wong of Associated Press wrote: “In a rare show of openness, the court has been publicizing details of the trial in a bid to lend credibility to what is widely seen as a political show trial. Bo, in return, has refrained from using the trial as a stage on which to denounce the administration and the opponents who purged him — which would likely be the leadership’s worst nightmare. “So far, the worst has been avoided,” said Ding Xueliang, a Chinese politics expert at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. “He’s been trying to play the game within the limitations set up by the Chinese leadership. He does not talk about politically sensitive things, even though everybody inside and outside China knows that he’s in trouble for politics.” <^>[Source: Gillian Wong, Associated Press, August 25, 2013 <^>]
“Still, the ousted leader mounted an unexpectedly spirited defense against charges of abuse of power and of netting $4.3 million through corruption, recanting earlier confessions and rarely expressing contrition as he sought to lay the blame for most of the misdeeds on his wife and others. He deftly cross-examined witnesses, and was selectively unable to recall key details when the questioning turned to him. <^>
“It appeared to be Bo’s last-ditch effort to repair the damage the scandal wrought on the clean, populist image he had so carefully cultivated for years — and might have caught by surprise prosecutors who were armed with the confessions and other evidence. “Today’s society faces acute contradictions, and people tend to involuntarily sympathize with those who are being attacked by the authorities, so he’s been able to portray himself as a victim, as a defeated hero,” said Zhang Lifan, a Chinese historian and political analyst. <^>
The proceedings are lasting longer than other recent high-profile trials, including the August 2012 conviction of Gu in the murder of a British businessman and the corruption conviction in June of a former railways minister. In those cases, the defendants pleaded guilty in daylong proceedings and scant details were released. Bo's trial had been expected to be similarly swift, but observers say he may have negotiated for his day in court. "It's most likely that Bo has made concessions to the disciplinary commission to win a chance to defend himself in the trial," said lawyer Zhang Sizhi, who has represented defendants in high-profile political cases, including Mao Zedong's wife in 1980. [Source: Gillian Wong, Associated Press, August Aug 23, 2013 ||||]
“The trial has focused attention on Bo's alleged economic and official misdeeds and avoided discussing the political battle he's widely perceived as having lost in his pursuit of a seat in China's apex of power ahead of last year's leadership transition. That political context means a guilty verdict is a foregone conclusion, analysts say, and giving Bo a chance to defend himself adds credibility to the process. ||||
Proceeding of the Bo Xilai’s Trial in Accordance with Chinese Law
The legal scholar Le Weifang told Global Viewpoint: “It is heartening that “an eye for an eye” does not exist in the Jinan Intermediate People’s Court, which has displayed very good neutrality. From the court’s official Weibo [Chinese microblogging site] postings of the trial’s procedures, the public prosecutor and defense counsel have been very professional, and in particular, the defendant’s right to speak in his own defense has been protected to a considerable degree. Although there are still obvious restrictions on the freedom of the public and the media to attend the trial, the most surprising fact was that the court displayed the general circumstances of the hearing via Weibo. [Source:He Weifang, Global Viewpoint, Christian Science Monitor, August 29, 2013. He Weifang, a professor of law at Peking University, is one of China’s most pre-eminent advocates of the rule of law and judicial independence. +++]
During the trial of this case, Bo Xilai presented his own defense in court during the argument phase by saying, “In speaking my mind in court, I hope that the public prosecutor does not take this for a malicious act or a withdrawal of my confession. The number of characters and the duration of the hearing show that there has been some screening, but it seems that most of the utterances in court have been published. This is unprecedented in terms of similar cases. Of course, it won’t have been the Jinan Intermediate People’s Court’s own decision to be this open. We currently cannot determine where the authority for this decision came from and what its original intent was. There are still some drawbacks to the hearing in terms of not being able to be present in the court in person, and only observing the hearing from the information posted to Weibo by the court. We already mentioned that the scope of crimes indicted by the Procuratorate of Jinan was constrained by the Commission for Discipline Inspection. This scope of prosecution and trial was not demarcated from strict legal criteria. This is the first drawback. +++
Second, the public prosecutor and the collegiate bench judges have not been able to indict and prosecute entirely in strict accordance with purely legal criteria, so when circumstances and issues arose during the court’s depositions and arguments that should have been caught, the judges and public prosecutor did not investigate them thoroughly. The most obvious example occurred on the second day of the trial. The lawyer said, “Wang Lijun’s [police chief of Chongqing under Bo] testimony gave the sense that Kailai’s case of November 15th occurred because of the house in Nice and Neil [Heywood]’s threats, but in reality, this was not what happened. Neil had sent Bo Guagua a letter demanding 14 million pounds as a commission on a project. This was unrelated to the house in Nice.” +++
“This is a tremendously important clue that may involve the Bo family’s other [alleged] financial crimes – what kind of a transaction could generate such an enormous amount in commission! – and may even involve the true motives behind Gu Kailai’s murder of Neil Heywood [British businessman]. It needed to be thoroughly investigated, but unfortunately, the public prosecutor let it pass. Also, in the final stage of arguments, Bo Xilai explained that he had hit Wang Lijun – a slap or a punch – because of an improper relationship between Wang and Gu Kailai. Obviously, the court needs to expose exactly what relationship existed between them. If there was an improper relationship, how long did it last, and what kinds of business transactions occurred during that time? This may also be related [to] what actually transpired for Gu Kailai to have killed Neil Heywood. The court also did not pursue this. +++
“Third, in this trial, Wang Lijun and several other witnesses went to the court in person to give testimony and were subjected to face-to-face questioning by the accused and his attorney. Compared to the Hefei trial of Gu Kailai and the Chengdu trial of Wang Lijun, this was a major bright point in the Jinan trial. There were still some flaws, however. For example, most of the witnesses who should have appeared in court did not appear, and all of the witnesses who appeared in court have been witnesses for the prosecution. Not one witness for the defense has appeared, and none of the written evidence laid out in court has been favorable to the accused. +++
“We have cause to ask this: Before the trial, did the lawyers proceed with broad collection of evidence? Also, Bo Xilai clearly said in court that he twice applied for Gu Kailai to testify in court, but this was denied by the presiding judge because Article 188 of the Criminal Procedural Law stipulates that relatives cannot be forced to testify in court. Only a video of Gu’s testimony was broadcast on site. However, the legal right protected by this regulation is the value of the ethical relationship between relatives. Since Gu had already agreed to testify via video, whether or not to appear in court was only a technical difference. Besides, the outcome of her not appearing in court was that there was no way to repeatedly confront the many things that touched upon the guilt or innocence of the accused. +++
“Fourth, compared to the complexity of circumstances involved in this case, the duration of the entire trial is still too brief.
Case Against Bo Xilai
Prosecutors claimed Bo abused his power as the Communist Party secretary of the southern megacity of Chongqing to block an investigation into his wife’s murder of a British businessman, as well as to hide his aide’s embarrassing flight to a U.S. consulate. Bo acknowledged that he made mistakes in the handling of the incidents that triggered the nation’s biggest political scandal in decades and brought shame on the Communist Party, but denied criminal misconduct. After testimony concluded the forth day, the court said all evidence in the trial had been presented. The trial was adjourned for a day and then closing arguments were be presented. [Source: Gillian Wong, Associated Press, August 25, 2013 <^>]
“The trial laid out how Bo Xilai’s wife Gu Kalai hatched a complicated plan with the help of two foreigners to hide their family’s ownership of the French villa, worth millions, and set up a chain of associates through which government funds could be embezzled discreetly. “It was the first time such a high-ranking family has put down the operation step by step,” Ding said. “This case has taught us so much about the dynamics and mechanisms in most Chinese corruption cases.” Testimony also revealed how one of the foreigners, Neil Heywood, demanded more money by threatening the safety of Bo’s son and to expose the family. Gu later killed him and received a suspended death sentence for the murder. <^>
Courtroom revelations painted a colorful picture of how Bo’s alleged misconduct enriched his family. He’s accused of providing political favors to a businessman, Xu Ming, in return for having him at his family’s beck and call. According to Bo’s wife, Xu gave the family expensive gifts that included a villa in France and international airfare to three continents. Bo is also accused of funneling $800,000 in government funds from a secret project. Besides the testimony, prosecutors have presented documents — receipts, copies of faxes, government approvals — and photos of the villa they say prove the businessman helped enrich the Bo family in return for political favors from Bo. [Source: Associated Press]
Barbara Demick wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “The charges date back to the 1990s, when Bo served as mayor and later party secretary of Dalian, a port city of 6 million people. He cultivated a close relationship with a young businessman, Xu Ming, and together their fortunes soared. The owner of a small seafood refrigeration warehouse, Xu was awarded no-bid contracts for redevelopment projects that transformed Dalian into an urban showcase. [Source: Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, August 11, 2013]
Bribery and Embezzlement Charges Against Bo Xilai
The bribery and embezzlement charges against Bo amounted to 26.8 million yuan ($4.4 million, with 21.8 million yuan for bribery and 5.0 million yuan embezzlement. Bo was accused of accepting 20.7 million yuan in bribes from businessman Xu Ming, who testified for the prosecution. A city official testifying in court that Bo had embezzled 5 million yuan ($800,000) of government funds. Bo denied all these charges.
The court heard that the businessman Xu Ming paid $3.2 million for a villa in the French Riviera resort of Cannes after Gu said she wanted to buy it. The six-bedroom mansion with a pool, shaded terrace and colonnaded balconies sits in an exclusive neighbourhood overlooking the Mediterranean. It was allegedly funded by Xu through three different companies and managed by others, so that neither Bo nor his family appeared on records as owners of the property. The complex setup was "to avoid tax" and because "I didn't want to bring any bad influence on (Bo)", according to Gu's testimony. [Source: AFP, August 27, 2013 /*\]
Tang Xiaolin, another businessman, allegedly gave Bo 1.1 million yuan including the $80,000 seen by Gu after profiting from a land deal the politician helped facilitate. Gu would grab thick wads of yuan and US dollars from safes in the couple's homes during three trips back to China a year from England, where she lived with their only son Bo Guagua. Both bribery accusations stemmed from Bo's years overseeing Dalian city and its northeastern province Liaoning in the 1990s and early 2000s. He became national commerce minister in 2004 and Chongqing's leader in 2007.
Bo Xilai’s Response to the Charges and Efforts to Intimidate Him
Bo pleaded not guilty and contesting nearly every aspect of the prosecutors’ case. Partial transcripts of the five-day trial showed Mr Bo offered a spirited defence, dismissing many of the charges against him and claiming investigators had forced him to confess to a number of crimes "against his will".
Andrew Jacobs and Chris Buckley wrote in the New York Times, “During the trial, the prosecution said Mr. Bo had taken $4.4 million in bribes and embezzled money. Mr. Bo countered that he had been unaware of the gifts and payments. A more complete version of what Mr. Bo said during his trial revealed the lengths to which the government sought to stage-manage the narrative, especially comments he made that could raise questions about the government’s tactics or damage the party’s public standing. According to testimony from the court proceedings obtained by The New York Times, Mr. Bo said interrogators threatened his family during hundreds of hours of interrogations that caused him to faint more than dozen times. [Source: Andrew Jacobs and Chris Buckley, New York Times, September 21, 2013 ***]
“He also parried the abuse-of-power allegations against him by implicating the party agency he said had ordered him to cover up the emerging scandal over Mr. Heywood’s murder. He said the Central Politics and Law Commission told him to create a fake medical report attributing Mr. Wang’s decision to seek refuge inside the United States Consulate to a mental breakdown. At the time, the commission was led by Zhou Yongkang, a recently retired member of the Politburo Standing Committee who had been cultivating Mr. Bo as a potential successor. Around the time of Bo Xilai’s trial several senior figures who rose to power under Mr. Zhou’s tutelage have been detained by anticorruption investigators in what analysts say could be an effort to extinguish his lingering influence. ***
Testimony in the Bo Xilai Trial on Bribes, Heywood and a French Villa
Edward Wong and Jonathan Ansfield wrote in the New York Times: Testimony in the second day of the trial “centered around the villa, in Cannes, which documents in France showed was owned by a Frenchman, Patrick Devillers, a friend of the Bo family. According to testimony from Mr. Devillers and others read aloud in court, Mr. Devillers was a frontman in the purchase of the villa by Mr. Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, who bought the villa more than a decade ago with $3.2 million from a young tycoon, Xu Ming. Prosecutors said Ms. Gu used different people in the French property management company as fronts to hide her ownership of the villa. Neil Heywood, a business associate of the Bo family, was brought in to hold Ms. Gu’s shares in the villa in 2007, and then removed in 2012. Prosecutors said he then demanded 1.4 million British pounds, or $2.2 million, from Ms. Gu and threatened her son, Bo Guagua; she poisoned Mr. Heywood in November 2011 because of the threats. [Source: Edward Wong and Jonathan Ansfield, New York Times, August 23, 2013 ><]
“The story spun by prosecutors on Friday was somewhat different from the one that officials presented in the August 2012 trial of Ms. Gu. There, officials said Mr. Heywood demanded 14 million British pounds, mostly as compensation for a failed property project in Chongqing. He made threats to the son to get that money, those prosecutors said, and that made Ms. Gu fearful. At the time, accounts of Ms. Gu’s trial, which was closed to the public, were posted online and relayed to journalists by people who had been allowed into the courtroom. ><
“In one exchange, after testimony from Ms. Gu was read in which she described taking cash from a safe that she shared with Mr. Bo, Mr. Bo’s court-appointed defense lawyer, Li Guifang, countered that the legal validity of Ms. Gu’s account was questionable because she faced a possible death sentence at the time. “So she could say anything to reduce her sentence,” said the person briefed by witnesses. “He raised these doubts.” ><
At another point, Mr. Bo vented anger against Tang Xiaolin, a state company manager who testified via video to having given Mr. Bo 1.1 million renminbi, or $180,000, in bribes in appreciation for help with business deals. According to the person briefed on the proceedings, Mr. Bo stated that if Mr. Tang appeared in court, he would slap him across the face harder than he had hit Wang Lijun. ><
“It was clear that testimony on the second day was vetted longer before being posted than it had been the day before, and that Mr. Bo and his attorneys were given fewer opportunities to rebut evidence, at least as shown to the public. The court aired more than an hour of video testimony from Ms. Gu in which she provided testimony on all three charges against Mr. Bo, though the court only posted an 11-minute clip online, according to the person briefed on the proceedings. ><
“In the video that was made public, Ms. Gu spoke to an interrogator about expensive items that Mr. Xu had bought for the Bo family, including abalone, airplane tickets and a Segway-like vehicle that the son wanted. Asked whether Mr. Bo knew about the purchases, Ms. Gu appeared equivocal and said, “He should know, our relationship is very close.” Pressed harder, she said, “Anyway, we all know.” She also said Mr. Bo helped Mr. Xu acquire a local soccer team and get land for a hot-air balloon venture, but did not mention any bribes paid specifically for those actions. In the video, Ms. Gu, serving a prison sentence, sat at a desk in a short-sleeved shirt, looking pale and much slimmer than she did at a court appearance a year ago. ><
“Mr. Bo denied any knowledge of payments by Mr. Xu, which some legal scholars said was a good strategy. “Bo’s defense today is that he was unaware of the bribes Gu took, which stands legally,” said Jiang Tianyong, a liberal lawyer and rights defender. “If he was unaware and took no part in the bribetaking, he has no responsibility, even if he is married to Gu.” “Bo’s self-defense is very effective, even more effective than that by his lawyers,” he added. ><
Devillers, who now lives in Cambodia, was given immunity in return for a prepared statement that he handled money for Gu Kailai, according to the Cambodian government. The tycoon Xu disappeared without explanation from public view more than a year ago. He is widely rumored to have killed himself in prison. [Source: Los Angeles Times]
Bo Xila’s Wife's Testimony on Gifts from a Rich Friend Used Against Him
Prosecutors in the trial of Bo Xilai used testimony from his own wife to support bribery allegations against him, presenting videotaped testimony in which she says a businessman gave their family gifts including a French villa, airline tickets and a Segway scooter. Associated Press reported: “The statement from Gu was videotaped on 10 August. Before it was presented, there had been no publicly released word from her since she was convicted of murder in August of last year. In the video, she said a businessman accused of bribing Bo was a family friend who did many favours for them in exchange for her husband's help. The businessman, Xu Ming, is from the north-eastern city of Dalian, where Bo was once a top official. [Source: Associated Press, August 23, 2013 |:|]
“Gu said Xu gave the family a villa in Nice, France, often paid for their international flights and gave them gifts that included expensive seafood. She said her son received a Segway – an electric standup scooter – from Xu, and that Bo had been aware of the gifts. “Gu is seen seated at a table in a black-and-white striped shirt in the video, posted on the Jinan court's microblog. Speaking softly but apparently at ease,"Xu Ming is our old and longtime friend," Gu is seen telling her questioner. "We had a very good impression of him and believed he was honest and kind, so we trusted him a lot." [Source: Gillian Wong, Associated Press, August 23, 2013]
In defending himself, Bo has focused on recanting earlier confessions, challenging the relevance of evidence presented and stating he was ignorant of any favors that two businessmen were providing his wife and son. Bo sought to discredit his wife even before the video was shown in Jinan intermediate people's court. When Bo's trial began, he questioned his wife's credibility and mental health while fiercely denying that he took $3.5 million in bribes from two businessmen, one of whom he described as a "mad dog" trying to earn credit with authorities. |:|
Prosecutors said their witness testimonies were obtained legally and that Gu, in particular, was not affected by any medication that would impair her self-control. Prosecutors said Xu's company paid hundreds of thousands of dollars on travel expenses for Gu, their son, friends and relatives over the past decade. They included the son's vacations in countries such as France and Cuba, and a tour of Africa.
Wang Lijun’s Testimony Against Bo Xilai
The court also heard evidence about the events surrounding the attempted U.S. defection bid by Wang, the police chief, in February 2012, an incident that blew the scandal into the open. Wang said he fled to an American consulate fearing for his safety after he told Bo that the politician’s wife had murdered a British associate. [Source: Associated Press, August 23, 2013]
Wang Lijun testified about the violent confrontation with Bo, his subsequent removal as police chief and the disappearance of his subordinates who were investigating the murder spurred him to flee to American officials for safety. He said Bo did not slap him as much as punch him hard, causing his mouth to bleed. “It was dangerous at the time,” Wang told the court. “I was subject to violence, and my staff working closely with me and those working on the case disappeared.” Wang said he believed Bo had ordered an investigation into the police officers involved in the murder case to try to shield his wife — which Bo denied. [Source: Gillian Wong, Associated Press, August 25, 2013 <^>]
Bo Slams His Wife and Wang Lijun at His Trial
Bo described the testimony presented by his wife and the businessman Xu as "fabricated," and that of his former police chief Wang Lijun as "tittle-tattle." After Gu Kailai's testimony was presented, Gillian Wong of Associated Press wrote: “Bo retorted that she was "crazy" and a convicted killer, disputing the prosecution's contention that the gifts amounted to bribes — or that he even knew about them — and denying he had provided any political favors in exchange for them. "Bogu Kailai has changed, she's crazy and she's always making things up," Bo told the Jinan Intermediate People's Court on the second day of the trial, using the name with which authorities have referred to her. "Under conditions where her mental state is abnormal, the investigators put her under immense pressure to expose me," Bo said. [Source: Gillian Wong, Associated Press, August Aug 23, 2013]
After the close of the formal testimony, Gillian Wong of Associated Press wrote: “Bo Xilai assailed his wife and his former right-hand man, rejecting accusations of corruption and shielding a murderer. Bo told the Jinan Intermediate People’s Court on Sunday, the fourth day of the trial, that his former right-hand man, Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun, “constantly lied in his testimony.” He said Wang was “a person of very vile quality, who lied in court and muddied the waters.” [Source: Gillian Wong, Associated Press, August 25, 2013 <^>]
“Bo has thrown his wife, Gu Kailai, under the bus for much of the corruption charges and even some aspects of the abuse of power allegation. Calling her “crazy” after she testified against him, he said he could not be held responsible for crimes she committed without his knowledge. But Chinese officialdom is familiar with the strategy of spreading out an officeholder’s illicit assets and wealth among relatives and trusted friends, so Bo’s defense is unlikely to convince the public, Ding said. <^>
Bo told the court that he reacted angrily to Wang’s report, slapping him in the face and smashing a cup in fury because he initially thought Wang was framing his wife for the crime. “I thought he was being duplicitous. I have zero tolerance for duplicity,” Bo said. “I slapped him in the face.” <^>
Bo Xilai's Trial Reveals Lifestyles of China's Rich and Infamous
Gillian Wong of Associated Press wrote: “Greed, machinations and betrayal in one of China's elite families were laid bare when prosecutors in the trial of Bo Xilai released testimony from his wife on a businessman's gifts to the family. Courtroom revelations by the prosecution have laid bare the way that shady ties between powerful officials and businessmen can play out in China, as well as the extents to which a political family might go to hide its wealth. Part of the couple's influence comes from their pedigree as the children of revolutionary veterans, a status that gives them access to important political and business networks. Prosecutors depicted Bo as trading favors with Xu Ming, a businessman in the northeastern city of Dalian, where Bo was a top official. Bo, they said, acted as Xu's political patron, helping the businessman take over a football club and secure land for a hot-air balloon project in return for expensive gifts for the family that included a villa in France. [Source: Gillian Wong, Associated Press, August Aug 23, 2013]
AFP reported: “The family's safes held more cash than an average Chinese might see in a lifetime. Their French villa was held through shell companies designed to avoid taxes and publicity. The son gallivanted around the world at huge expense. The bribery and embezzlement charges against Bo, until last year the head of the megacity of Chongqing and one of China's top-25 leaders, amount to 26.8 million yuan ($4.4 million). And that only touches on a few business dealings in the early part of the 64-year-old's career. [Source: AFP, August 27, 2013 /*\]
“Bo defended himself against allegations from his wife Gu Kailai that she once saw $80,000 in bribe money by revealing the amount of ready cash they kept at home. "In the shared safe there were hundreds of thousands of yuan, so how could she know the money she took out was from me?" he said, according to court accounts. /*\
“The court heard that the businessman Xu Ming paid $3.2 million for a villa in the French Riviera resort of Cannes after Gu said she wanted to buy it. The six-bedroom mansion with a pool, shaded terrace and colonnaded balconies sits in an exclusive neighbourhood overlooking the Mediterranean. It was allegedly funded by Xu through three different companies and managed by others, so that neither Bo nor his family appeared on records as owners of the property. The complex setup was "to avoid tax" and because "I didn't want to bring any bad influence on (Bo)", according to Gu's testimony. /*\
“Tang Xiaolin, another businessman, allegedly gave Bo 1.1 million yuan including the $80,000 seen by Gu after profiting from a land deal the politician helped facilitate. Gu would grab thick wads of yuan and US dollars from safes in the couple's homes during three trips back to China a year from England, where she lived with their only son Bo Guagua. Both bribery accusations stemmed from Bo's years overseeing Dalian city and its northeastern province Liaoning in the 1990s and early 2000s. He became national commerce minister in 2004 and Chongqing's leader in 2007. /*\
“Their son meanwhile attended top-notch schools and universities with hefty tuition fees including Harrow in Britain, Oxford, Harvard and, from this autumn, Columbia law school in New York. Xu paid for Guagua to travel to Germany for the 2006 World Cup, as well as Italy, Latin America and Africa, and for toys such as an 80,000-yuan Segway scooter, the court heard. Guagua charged $50,000 to his credit card -- paid off by Xu -- brought back a month's worth of exotic meat from Africa and in 2011 treated 40 Harvard classmates to an expenses-paid trip to China. At the same time in Chongqing, Bo -- who during the trial admitted to having had extramarital affairs -- mounted Maoist revivalist rallies chanting "Serve the People". /*\
Some Chinese would be surprised if a politician of Bo's stature had not obtained even more wealth, said Steve Tsang, a China politics expert at the University of Nottingham in Britain. "I think for a lot of people, the question would be, could this be it?" he said. "Surely someone in Bo's position could and would have enjoyed much more than what was revealed in court." Many Chinese have come to expect ill-gotten riches of their leaders and Bo's supporters may be willing to overlook his actions, said David Goodman, of the University of Sydney. "Given that they're all at it, why shouldn't you support people you think have views that you think are acceptable?" he said. "They don't make a complicated calculus about, well, he's corrupt but he's for us -- but that's what it comes down to." /*\
Bo Xilai Receives a Life Sentence
In September 2013, almost a month after the trial ended, Bo Xilai was sentenced to life in prison after the Jinan intermediate people's court in the coastal Shandong province found him guilty of accepting $3.45 million in bribes, embezzling more than $800,00 and abusing his position by blocking an investigation into the murder. Bo's sentence was the harshest for a current or former member of China's politburo, since 1981, when Mao's widow Jiang Qing received a suspended death sentence for overseeing atrocities during the Cultural Revolution. Analysts said that while the Chinese government was keen to present the trial as evidence of the country's rule of law, authorities tightly controlled the proceedings and determined his verdict well in advance.
Andrew Jacobs and Chris Buckley wrote in the New York Times, “The sentence means Mr. Bo is unlikely to ever return to public life, unless there is an extraordinary reversal in his political fortunes. Given the Communist Party’s tight control of the judiciary, there was never much doubt that the Jinan Intermediate People’s Court in eastern China would find Mr. Bo guilty. [Source: Andrew Jacobs and Chris Buckley, New York Times, September 21, 2013 ***]
“Even before the verdict, commentaries in state-run news media declared that Mr. Bo’s guilt was clear. Yet until the end, Mr. Bo remained defiant, pleading not guilty and contesting nearly every aspect of the prosecutors’ case during his trial in August. The court gave Mr. Bo a small victory. Although it found him culpable for taking bribes worth $3.2 million, it said there was insufficient evidence concerning the air travel, which it said was worth about $218,000. ***
“Tong Zhiwei, a professor at East China University of Political Science and Law in Shanghai, said the life sentence was to be expected, given that Mr. Bo remained combative to the end and because he offered little of the contrition expected of fallen officials. “The fact that he didn’t plead guilty probably led to a heavier sentence” Mr. Tong said. “But on the other hand, it was also relatively lenient, because in the past, not pleading guilty to bribetaking on this scale has been very rare and could bring a death penalty.” He added that Mr. Bo’s sentence could later be reduced if he showed contrition and behaved well. “There’s that possibility, but he’ll probably have to serve at least a dozen or more years before that’s even possible,” he said. ***
“Like the trial, the hearing during which Mr. Bo was sentenced was closed to foreign journalists, and there was no video feed of the proceedings. According to the Jinan court’s microblog, those allowed inside the courtroom included three family members, two associates and 22 members of the news media. “Not only must justice be done; it must also be seen to be done,” the microblog feed said. Before reading out the sentence, the judge, Wang Xuguang, rejected Mr. Bo’s defense, including claims that his long hours of interrogation were abusive and thus illegal. He also brushed away the defendant’s assertion that Ms. Gu had psychological problems that rendered unreliable her testimony against her husband. ***
“The judge said the court had established that Mr. Bo’s conduct was the main reason the murder of Mr. Heywood “was not dealt with promptly and according to the law” and why Mr. Wang fled to the consulate in what he described as a treasonous act. The court said of these episodes: “They created particularly malign social consequences, and brought major harm to the interests of the state and the people.” ***
Before the trial it was said lawyers said that prosecutors have been trying to reach a deal in which Bo would receive a maximum 20-year sentence along with assurances that his son would not be harmed. Bo's wife received a suspended death sentence last year after appearing contrite and subdued in court, confessing and apologizing. [Source: Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, August 11, 2013]
Bo Xilai Smiles After His Sentencing and Writes a Letter to Clear His Name But His Appeal is Rejected
Cheng Li and Ryan McElveen wrote in the Los Angeles Times, As Bo Xilai “stood in court to hear the predictably punitive verdict, he grinned like a Cheshire cat. It was the knowing smile of someone who has endured a life of struggle and sat on both sides of China's capricious and politically calibrated scales of justice. That smile could haunt Xi and the Chinese leadership for years to come if they don't continue on the path of reform. Xi has spent his political honeymoon trying to gain traction for his domestic policy agenda. His court victory in the Bo case was a setback for China's "new left" (the current generation of Maoists, including many of Bo's followers). But liberal intellectuals are likely to remain cynical. Although many in China are greatly incensed by the widespread corruption among officials, they also want Xi to take the lead in implementing economic and constitutional reforms.[Source: Cheng Li and Ryan McElveen, Los Angeles Times, September 24, 2013]
After his trial and before his sentencing Bo Xilai wrote to his family from jail that was circulated among his close associates and leaked to the press. In Bo asserted his innocence and declared that his name would one day be cleared — much like that of his father,Bo Yibo, who was jailed at least twice by his enemies but emerged to become one of the Communist Party’s most revered luminaries. Details of the letter, first published by the South China Morning Post, were confirmed by two family associates. “I will follow his footsteps,” Mr. Bo wrote of his father’s rehabilitation. “I will wait quietly in the prison.” [Source: New York Times]
Tom Phillips wrote in The Telegraph, “In a letter to supporters that was reportedly penned inside a Chinese prison, Bo likened himself to his father, the revolutionary hero Bo Yibo, who was persecuted and publicly humiliated by Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution. Mr Bo also said he was ready to face the "miseries" of imprisonment, according to extracts of the letter published by Hong Kong's South China Morning Post. "Father and mother have passed away, but their teachings continue to serve me well," Bo Xilai wrote in his pre-verdict letter. "I would not disgrace their glorious past." ENDS [Source: Tom Phillips, The Telegraph, September 19, 2013]
Bo Xilai filed an appeal, claiming the verdict was formality but the appeal was rejected. Jonathan Kaiman wrote in The Guardian, “A court in eastern China has rejected an appeal by the ousted Chinese leader Bo Xilai and upheld his life sentence for bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power. After a brief session, the Shandong high people's court upheld the lower court's decision, China's state newswire Xinhua reported via its official microblog. It did not provide further details. Bo will not have another chance to appeal. Bo Zhiyue, an expert on Chinese politics at the National University of Singapore, called the rejected appeal unsurprising. "Politically I think [Bo] is finished," he said. "But Chinese politics are not predictable. You never know – something may happen down the road." [Source: Jonathan Kaiman, The Guardian, October 25, 2013]
Bo is imprisoned at the Qincheng penitentiary, just north of Beijing, where disgraced members of the elite are incarcerated. Senior party leaders had pushed for Bo to get a long sentence, fearing he could stage a political comeback one day if not dealt with harshly. A Communist Party document circulated in November 2013 urged officials to toe the line and learn from Bo's mistakes, sources said. They were told to fully conform with the party's decision to expel and prosecute Bo. [Source: Reuters]
CHINESE GOVERNMENT, XI JINPING AND THE BO XILAI TRIAL
Gillian Wong of Associated Press wrote: “The Communist Party is using the trial to cement Bo’s downfall and wrap up a scandal that hangs over the party’s recently installed new leadership as it tries to cement its authority and fully focus on tackling serious economic and social challenges. Bo’s downfall also has been widely perceived as the result of his defeat in party infighting ahead of China’s once-a-decade leadership transition last fall. [Source: Gillian Wong, Associated Press, August 25, 2013]
Edward Wong and Jonathan Ansfield wrote in the New York Times: China’s leaders are engaged in a delicate balancing act. On the one hand, they aim to parade Mr. Bo as a criminal and silence his most vocal supporters. On the other, they want to avoid tarring the leftist policies he championed or alienating important revolutionary families. The tension lays bare the continuing need to preserve the vaunted place of the party’s original ideology in China’s political life, nearly 35 years after the party turned from Maoism to economic reform and opening. As Mr. Bo showed, the ideology remains the most fundamental wellspring that Chinese politicians can tap for popular support and legitimacy. Some political analysts say China’s leader, Xi Jinping, is taking a page from the Bo playbook when he stresses the importance of learning from Mao and Marx and pushes an old-school “mass line” rectification campaign among party officials. [Source: Edward Wong and Chris Buckley, New York Times, August 20, 2013 \=\]
“Those analysts, and leftist allies of Mr. Bo, point out that the charges against him deal mainly with financial transgressions earlier in his career — taking bribes from Xu Ming, a tycoon and old friend, is said to be the biggest criminal act— rather than anything substantially related to the controversial policies he championed during his governance of Chongqing. There, from 2008 to his dismissal in March 2012 he pushed policies in the name of socialist revival. They ranged from building low-cost housing to promoting mass Communist “red song” singalongs to battling corruption in a “strike black” campaign that liberals criticized for its human rights abuses. “People believed in Bo Xilai because he held up the banner of Mao Zedong,” said Yang Fan, a professor at the China University of Political Science and Law, and a founder of the Utopia Web site. “If you don’t use the banner of Mao, you’re nobody. Who would believe in you?” “Even more than Bo Xilai,” Mr. Yang added, Mr. Xi “uses a lot of Mao’s words.” \=\
“Yet as the trial approached, the party intensified its clampdown on Mr. Bo’s leftist supporters. Some have been detained, others ordered to avoid making public comments. In late June, a former college teacher, Wang Zheng, who had gone to Chongqing to help local Bo supporters find exculpatory evidence, was forced to fly back to Beijing, where she was detained in the suburbs, according to a first-person account posted online. \=\
“The same week the trial opened Xi Jinping gave a speech in which he stressed the continued importance of Marxism. But he also appeared to try to reinforce conformity. “It’s up to propaganda and ideological work to consolidate the guiding status of Marxism in the ideological sphere,” Mr. Xi told a conference of propaganda officials in Beijing, the Xinhua news agency reported Tuesday. “We must uphold, consolidate and strengthen mainstream thinking and opinion.” \=\
Some analysts argued that the trial was political theater as the damage to B had alreadt been done. "It's dealing with a ghost, really. The guy has been absolutely annihilated," said Kerry Brown, a former British diplomat in Beijing and China expert at the University of Sydney.
China’s New Left and the Bo Xilai Trial
Edward Wong and Jonathan Ansfield wrote in the New York Times: “Fears of Bo-inspired dissent are not unfounded. Ardent leftists have insisted that the prosecution of Mr. Bo is rooted in personal vendettas. The “Red Hometown” Web site signified the party’s announcement of his trial date on Sunday with a headline beginning, “Tragedy!” Leftist commentators have continued to depict the case as a plot. Last year, leftists circulated an extraordinary petition online calling for the impeachment of Wen Jiabao, a political enemy of Mr. Bo who was then the prime minister; it got more than 1,600 signatures. Recently, a group of Maoists revived the campaign, and a version of the updated petition supposedly had 3,000 signatures. China’s far left is small, but is a vocal part of the political agitation allowed under party controls. For the party, loyalists who embrace Marx and Mao as patron saints are useful watchdogs to be unleashed against liberal voices. [Source: Edward Wong and Chris Buckley, New York Times, August 20, 2013 \=\]
“One of those who hardened against party leaders is Han Deqiang, another founder of Utopia and an associate professor at the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics. “This is an unjust case with charges trumped up out of nothing or exaggerated accusations grafted on from elsewhere,” he said. Like others, he said he had noticed Mr. Xi and fellow party leaders donning Mr. Bo’s neo-Maoist mantle after taking power in November. “China is walking on the path of Bo Xilai without Bo Xilai himself,” Mr. Han said. “What it proclaims in public banners is still the same as what Bo Xilai did in Chongqing. But the problem is, a Bo Xilai road without Bo Xilai lacks substance. It’s flimsy and fake.” \=\
“Li Weidong, a political analyst and magazine editor, noted that the party leadership would have a hard time convincing leftist critics like Mr. Han that the trial was anything other than the climax of a political struggle. “They need Bo to directly admit guilt and apologize in his own voice on television,” Mr. Li said. “Otherwise, it’s even easier for the left to say it’s all just a fraud.” \=\
Before the trial, the government detained journalist Song Yangbiao, who had called for Bo's followers to attend the trial in a show of support. Over the previous year, other activists have been arrested after calling for legislation that would require government officials to disclose their assets.
Response to Bo Xilai’s Sentencing
Andrew Jacobs and Chris Buckley wrote in the New York Times, “Party leaders under President Xi Jinping had hoped that prosecuting Mr. Bo would demonstrate the party’s determination to tame the rampant official corruption that has stoked public ire, posing a potential threat to their hold on power. But many Chinese citizens believe that that lavish lifestyle is typical for families of senior officials, not the depraved aberration presented in state-run news media. And Mr. Bo’s supporters, who have remained vocal despite censorship, have argued that he is the victim of a political vendetta aimed at thwarting his populist ambitions. “The stupidest TV writers couldn’t come up with plots like that,” Mr. Bo said at his trial, responding to the prosecution’s claims. [Source: Andrew Jacobs and Chris Buckley, New York Times, September 21, 2013 ***]
“Despite the revelations at the trial, Mr. Bo has retained support among Chinese people who see him as a charismatic advocate of left-leaning policies. Some said Mr. Bo would remain a symbolic leader, even in prison.“This was a stiff sentence. He should have been found not guilty, if the law was truly applied,” said Han Deqiang, a professor at the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics who has been among Mr. Bo’s most passionate defenders. “This shows that power is bigger than the law, that politics is bigger than the law.” ***
“But Fang Hong, a resident of Chongqing who was sent to a labor camp because he had mocked Mr. Bo, said the court and government had erred in failing to confront Mr. Bo’s broader misdeeds as that city’s party secretary, especially the abuses he unleashed during his crackdown on alleged organized crime. “Actually, this was a relatively light sentence, compared to what other officials might get,” said Mr. Fang, whose sentence was overturned last year after Mr. Bo’s downfall. “If the government doesn’t confront these problems, they can happen again.” ***
John Garnaut wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald, “It seems the families dominating Chinese politics abide by Benjamin Frankin's warrior's code: they can hang together or hang separately. Ironically, perhaps, many of those associates say they opposed Bo's conviction, not because he did no wrong but because he will not receive a fair trial. “I also do not agree with what he did but I think he should be afforded proper legal process,” says one of Bo's princeling associates, who was close to Xi in the 1980s. “Wen and his family were so greedy, so why not examine him?”Even Bo's most ardent opponents agree the critics have a point. In the eyes of liberal lawyers, journalists and intellectuals and descendants and proteges of the deceased reformer Hu Yaobang, this trial is a unique opportunity for Xi and their Politburo colleagues to move China away from its lawless and Maoist past, where imagined utopian ends can be used to justify any means. They believe he should be on trial for the way he enforced his will, including asset stripping, systematic torture and emasculating the party's judicial system. [Source: John Garnaut. Sydney Morning Herald, August 22, 2013. John Garnaut is the author of “The Rise and Fall of the House of Bo”. *=*]
Bo Xilai's Wealth and Corruption and What It Says About China’s Elite
Barbara Demick wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “The Chinese government wants to use Bo as an example in its campaign against official corruption. In announcing his indictment, the official New China News Agency said "Bo took the advantage of his position as a civil servant to seek gains for others, as well as accepted bribes in the form of large amounts of money and property." It said he also embezzled public money and abused his power. [Source: Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, August 11, 2013 \\\\]
The problem for China's leaders, their critics point out, is that in some ways they're not so different from Bo. Many of them are equally well off or have families who have grown rich under the system — and just as intent on placing their children in elite schools outside China. Bo's trial is a gamble for the Chinese government, given that many Communist Party leaders are wealthy.Last year, an obscure bureaucrat from the southern city of Guangzhou earned the nickname "Uncle House" after it was revealed that he had acquired 22 homes worth $6 million. The New York Times reported last year that the family of then-Premier Wen Jiabao was worth $2.7 billion.
"This is a common problem among Chinese officials," opined an unsigned editorial in Duowei, an overseas Chinese website linked to the Chinese Communist Party. The editorial noted that much of the money Bo and Gu are alleged to have obtained illegally went to support the overseas education of their son Guagua, and that many of the current leaders also have offspring studying abroad. "If you have to trace where all the money came from and go after each individual involved, it might shake and bring fear to the whole class of senior officials," it said. The editorial has since been deleted from the website.
Bo Xilai’s Trial, a Signal of Reform?
Cheng Li and Ryan McElveen wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “The sentencing of disgraced Chinese leader Bo Xilai to life in prison struck a blow against one of the greatest existential threats to Communist Party rule since Tiananmen Square. In addition to handing President Xi Jinping a victory in his campaign against official corruption, the verdict also discredited the radical Maoist transformation of China that Bo Xilai sought to mobilize. But now that Xi has gained a tentative credibility in the eyes of the Chinese people, he must embark on further reforms to ensure that his victory is enduring. [Source: Cheng Li and Ryan McElveen, Los Angeles Times, September 24, 2013. Cheng Li is a senior fellow in the John L. Thornton China Center at the Brookings Institution. Ryan McElveen is a researcher on Chinese politics and foreign policy.\+/]
“Xi has made anti-corruption reforms a centerpiece of his presidency, and the prosecution of Bo gave credence to his efforts. Throughout the scandal and trial, Bo denied everything, admitted nothing and blamed any missteps on his imprisoned wife and his former confidants. He was nevertheless declared guilty of bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power. \+/
“So what should come next? Having now dispensed with the biggest case under his watch, a revitalized Xi is expected to extend his anti-corruption campaign to other heavy hitters, possibly including former Politburo Standing Committee member Zhou Yongkang and former Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission Xu Caihong. Zhou and Xu had pervasive control over personnel appointments in two very powerful sectors of Chinese government: domestic security and the military. Zhou was Bo's political patron and would be the highest-ranking official to be investigated as part of Xi's campaign. Zhou is said to have overseen questionable legal investigations in addition to widespread corruption. An investigation of Zhou would be heralded as a signal that nobody, not even a former member of the Politburo Standing Committee, is immune to being purged in China. \+/
“These would be important prosecutions, but Xi also needs to move on to other kinds of reform. Many aspects of his presidency to date have troubled Chinese intellectuals and the general public. Earlier this year, for example, he issued a circular to academics instructing them not to speak about seven sensitive issues, and he recently distributed "Document 9" to party members describing the threat of Western democratic ideals and human rights advocacy to Chinese communist ideology. The government also sparked concern by threatening three-year prison terms for posting "slanderous" content on social media platforms that attracts more than 5,000 views or is reposted more than 500 times.\+/
“These trends do not bode well for legal and constitutional reform in China, and they stand in contrast to the hopes stirred by the legal proceedings against Bo. His semi-open trial brought renewed hope that the legal system is evolving, bringing new transparency to court proceedings and allowing for Bo's vigorous self-defense. Yet, since the leadership controlled the content of courtroom proceedings that were released through social media, there remains much room for more systemic legal reforms.
Bo Xilai Trial As a Sign for Injustices in the Chinese Legal System
Adam Minter of Bloomberg wrote: What is Bo Xilai’s “best defense against allegations of embezzlement, bribery and abuse of power? On a practical level, he has none. The Chinese Communist Party is eager to restore its legitimacy with a public that views it — charitably — as hopelessly corrupt, and Bo’s predetermined conviction is a big part of accomplishing that task. He will be guilty, and he will go to prison; the Communist Party and its mouthpieces will celebrate the decisiveness of the verdict as proof that the party — and the courts it controls — won’t tolerate corruption in its ranks. [Source: Adam Minter, Bloomberg, August 20, 2013 *^*]
“But who will believe this? Certainly not a Chinese public that’s bombarded daily with news of arrests and convictions of officials at all levels of the party. Far from legitimizing the party and its rule, this lineup of corrupt officialdom undermines it with a Chinese public predisposed to believe in its institutional rot. Sadly, by the standard set by China’s daily newspapers, Bo’s crimes are extraordinary only insofar as they involve a very senior official. *^*
“The courts don’t escape this verdict, either. In the Chinese judicial system, prosecutors and police work closely with the courts -– and everyone, especially judges, answers to the much-maligned Communist Party. Achieving justice means having the power, money and connections to lobby for it. Alas, for most Chinese, lacking in power, money and connections, this state of affairs leaves few alternatives beyond hopeless petitioning and — in increasing numbers — vengeance. *^*
“Bo knew this situation, and how to use and abuse it, as well as any official in modern Chinese history. As party secretary of Chongqing from 2007 to 2012, Bo undertook a popular anti-corruption drive in which he overlooked legal niceties and used his considerable power over the judiciary and police to detain (and allegedly frame) thousands of criminals. *^*
Bo Xilai Trial Could Spark Chinese Justice Reform
Adam Minter of Bloomberg wrote: “Bo is not a sympathetic character. During his time in Chongqing he ruled ruthlessly and lived like a depraved Roman emperor. Nonetheless, he can still serve as a poster boy for China’s judicial failings. Recent weeks have brought tantalizing hints that at least a few Chinese view him that way. The China-based Human Rights Campaign for China posted a photo of a Beijing-based petitioner planning to protest outside Bo’s trial in Jinan. Behind her was a poster of Bo’s face, with a simple question: “If he can’t get justice, can you?” [Source: Adam Minter, Bloomberg, August 20, 2013 *^*]
Most Chinese would undoubtedly answer “no” to that question — one probable reason that the Chinese leadership has in recent weeks made judicial reform one of its signature public campaigns. The reform initiative had been in the works but seems to have gained urgency as judicial scandals and unpopular decisions (often the same thing) increased public outrage at the courts and perceptions of Communist Party lawlessness. *^*
Bo may not be aware of the recent reform initiative, but he’s certainly aware of how China’s flawed court system exacerbates social tensions. Yet, even if he mounted a defense based on the reasonable suggestion that he’s being subjected to an unfair trial, the censors would never allow the Chinese public to hear it. A political trial disguised as a judicial proceeding isn’t an open forum to air grievances against the ruling party. Bo, as much as anyone in China, understands that. *^*
On the irony of Bo Xilai being subjected to an unfair trail after he himself ran roughshod over the rule of law, Le Weifang told Global Viewpoint: “To prevent wrongful convictions, China established a system of mutual restraint among public security agencies, prosecutorial entities, and the courts. In particular, defense counsel is included in the system of mutual restraint between prosecutorial entities and the courts in order to prevent wrongful convictions. A huge number of wrongful convictions would result if only the prosecutorial entities’ one-sided arguments are heard.” He can actually describe the reasoning for this law clearly and rationally at a time when he himself has become the accused. Is this a satire? The miscarriages of justice caused by the Chongqing crackdown on crime should be investigated. But although this trial has avoided doing so, at least Bo has been placed in the dock of the accused. His calls to request impartial proceedings have more impact and persuasiveness than those from other people in general. [Source:He Weifang, Global Viewpoint, Christian Science Monitor, August 29, 2013. He Weifang, a professor of law at Peking University, is one of China’s most pre-eminent advocates of the rule of law and judicial independence.]
Chongqing Model Lives on After Bo Xilai
The Chongqing Model, especially the highly controversial “singing red and striking black” campaign, received many endorsements from China’s leadership. Several members of the Standing Committee of the Politburo, including Xi Jinping, visited Chongqing to show support for the “striking black” campaign and other actions. As for “singing red,” it has since spread to more places and is very much alive today.
Mo Zhixu wrote in China Change: “A close look at Bo Xilai’s work in Chongqing, especially in the highly controversial “singing red and striking black” campaign, one will find that, the so-called Chongqing Model is in keeping with the “China Model” initiated by Deng Xiaoping: use two hands and keep both strong. In terms of developing the economy on the one hand and maintaining stability on the other, Chongqing under Bo Xilai was not really any different from anywhere else in China, nor was the conduct there more egregious than anywhere else. Liberals in China made loud complaints about many incidents in Chongqing, such as the crackdown on private entrepreneurs (striking black) and many gratuitous re-education-through-labor cases. But keep in mind that the nation-wide clampdown during the so-called “Jasmine Revolution” in 2011 against dissidents and activists was just as harsh, if not worse, whether in terms of legal abuses or the extent of torture. Chongqing Model was at most an alternative version of the stability-maintenance system, not something different. [Source:Mo Zhixu, China Change, September 30, 2013. Mo Zhixu, pen name of Zhao Hui, is a Beijing-based Chinese dissident intellectual and a frequent contributor of Chinese-language publications known for his incisive views of Chinese politics and opposition. He is the co-author of “China at the Tipping Point? Authoritarianism and Contestation” in the January, 2013, issue of Journal of Democracy :::]
“Bo Xilai’s outlandish gig in Chongqing indeed exasperated the central leadership, especially Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao, sowing the seeds for future punishment. But such irritation was more towards Bo Xilai’s personal style, not a political disagreement. Precisely because of their political sameness, the trial of Bo Xilai completely avoided anything having to do with the “singing red and striking black” campaign. It was not a political trial against the Chongqing model. It was merely a procedure to drive Bo Xilai out of the political arena once for all. :::
“Bo Xilai may have been done over, but the incubator of the Chongqing model is very much alive. The political choices unfolding right now are nothing but a brother of the Chongqing model born by the same mother: on the one hand, both stick to the maintenance of overpowering authoritarianism; on the other, both are keen on keeping up economic development. Bo Xilai expressed this Deng Xiaoping doctrine rather nakedly in “singing red and striking black” whereas Xi Jinping affirms it indirectly with his statement that “We cannot negate the history of the decades before the reform and opening-up with that of the decades since the reform and opening-up, nor can we negate the history of the decades since the reform and opening-up with that of the decades before the reform and opening-up.” Xi Jinping, and Bo Xilai before him, are seeking to integrate Mao Zedong’s dictatorship and Deng Xiaoping’s reform and opening-up. Even though Bo Xilai’s political career is over, as long as the China Model, which he has attempted to mark with a personal signature, continues to live, similar thinking and practices will continue to exist and even flourish without Bo Xilai. :::
Bo Xilai Supporters Set up a Political Party
In November 2013, Reuters reported: Supporters of Bo Xilai have set up a political party, two separate sources said, in a direct challenge to the ruling Communist Party's de facto ban on new political groups. The Zhi Xian Party, literally "the constitution is the supreme authority" party, was formed on November 6, three days before the opening on Saturday of a key conclave of top Communist Party leaders to discuss much-needed economic reforms, the sources said. It named Bo as "chairman for life", Wang Zheng, one of the party's founders and an associate professor of international trade at the Beijing Institute of Economics and Management, told Reuters by telephone. "This is not illegal under Chinese law. It is legal and reasonable," Wang said. A second source, who asked not to be identified but who has direct knowledge of the party's founding, confirmed the news. [Source: Benjamin Kang Lim and Ben Blanchard, Reuters, November 19, 2013]
The Communist Party has not allowed any opposition parties to be established since it came to power following the 1949 revolution, so history suggests it will not look kindly on this new party, even more so because its titular head is a former member of its top ranks. Activists have been jailed in the past for setting up political parties, although parties have never before coalesced around fallen top political figures. Wang said school authorities asked her not to go ahead with her plans to form the party, but added that she was not doing anything illegal. She said she had not been approached by the government.
Asked if she was worried she would be arrested, Wang said: "We are not afraid. I don't think we will be arrested." The new party announced its establishment by sending letters to the Communist Party, China's eight other political parties, parliament and the top advisory body to parliament, Wang said, adding that no ceremony was held. It also sent a letter to Bo via the warden of his prison informing him that he would be their "chairman for life", she said. It was not immediately clear if Bo would agree.The party was set up because it "fully agrees with Mr Bo Xilai's common prosperity" policy, according to a party document seen by Reuters, a reference to Bo's leftist egalitarian policies that won him so many supporters. Asked if party members included Communists, government officials or People's Liberation Army officers, Wang said she could not discuss the matter to protect them because it was politically "sensitive".
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, The Guardian, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated January 2014