Fallen Chinese high-flyer Bo goes on trial

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OUSTED Chinese political star Bo Xilai went on trial for bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power on Thursday, asking to be treated “fairly” at the start of the country’s highest-profile prosecution for decades.

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Bo was accused of abusing his political powers to cover up his wife’s murder of a British businessman in 2011, according to the Twitter-like weibo account of the Intermediate People’s Court in Jinan, in eastern China.

A picture of Bo posted on the account showed him standing in the dock wearing an open-necked white shirt and looking pensive, his hands crossed in front of him.

“I hope the judge can deal with the case reasonably and fairly,” the court quoted Bo as saying, adding that he said he had no objections to the evidence presented.

Bo took advantage of his position as party secretary of the southwestern mega city of Chongqing to carry out “a series of acts of abuse of power”, the court heard.

Bo also “received 21.8 million yuan” ($3.6 million) in bribes while mayor of the northeastern port city of Dalian, governor of Liaoning province and national minister of commerce, prosecutors said, adding that Bo had also embezzled another five million yuan of public funds.

Bribes were received through Bo’s wife Gu Kailai and their son Bo Guagua, they said.

The prosecution called for Bo to be punished according to a law that prescribes a minimum of 10 years in jail for taking bribes of more than 100,000 yuan.

Bo was once one of the 25 members of the Communist Party’s Politburo, and the party is touting the trial as proof of its intent to crack down on corruption.

But details about the scandal, which erupted in the build-up to a once-in-a-decade leadership handover that saw Xi Jinping elevated as party chief, have also exposed the high-flying lifestyles and murky dealings of China’s political elite.

It also revealed factional divisions within the party, and the proceedings remain sensitive.

Analysts say Bo’s revival of the trappings of China under Mao Zedong—including mass concerts singing “red” songs—in Chongqing alarmed sections of the top leadership, who saw the campaigns as a brash return to a bygone era of strongman rule.

One Bo supporter held up a portrait of Mao outside the court and a man surnamed He, who works part of the year in Chongqing, said he flew in the night before and had met many others from the city.

The 51-year-old said he had not told his family he was coming to the trial, reflecting the sensitivity of the situation, yet he openly praised the fallen leader in front of a row of police.

“If this were a matter of justice, would they be so nervous?” he said, referring to the scores of blue-uniformed police who blocked roads around the entrances of the court in Shandong province, far from Bo’s power bases, early Thursday.

“It doesn’t matter how he is sentenced, it matters how history is written,” the man added.

Hundreds of passersby stopped to watch outside the court, some capturing the scene on their smart phones, as cars, buses and ambulances occasionally drove in.

The galleries were packed, the court said, with five relatives of the accused present, two assistants, 19 journalists and 84 members of the public. But no foreign media organizations were granted entry.

Bo—who had not previously been seen in public for over a year—was shown with short hair, tinged with grey at the temples, and was flanked by two policemen, both taller than him.

“Bo’s more than 180cm tall. The cops next to him must be over 190cm. Were they chosen for that on purpose?” one commentator on the court’s Sina Weibo account said.

The politician’s dramatic downfall began in November 2011 when British businessman Neil Heywood was found dead in a hilltop hotel room.

Gu was last year given a suspended death sentence—normally commuted to life imprisonment—for Heywood’s murder. Bo’s police chief Wang Lijun, whose flight to a US consulate blew the scandal open, got 15 years in jail for his role in covering up the killing, defection and other crimes.

Bo’s own long-awaited trial is expected to proceed swiftly, with a guilty verdict all but certain and the sentence believed to have been decided beforehand. AFP

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