Bo Xilai

Beijing in scramble to put Bo Xilai on trial ahead of leadership transition

Prosecution of disgraced former party boss for corruption is likely to be rushed through ahead of leadership transition, experts say

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 01 October, 2012, 12:00pm

Bo Xilai is likely to stand trial before the start of the leadership succession next month, as Beijing scrambles to limit the fallout from his scandalous downfall, analysts say.

They believe the trial of the disgraced former Politburo member was the main reason for the surprise postponement of the opening of the 18th national party congress until November 8.

Criminal proceedings against Bo are expected to be accelerated, with some pundits predicting the former Chongqing party chief may be convicted before the once-in-a-decade leadership shake-up starts.

Bo may face life imprisonment or even the death penalty for corruption and other crimes; he is alleged to have taken bribes worth more than 20 million yuan over nearly 20 years, according to an internal party probe.

Although Bo's wife, Gu Kailai , was implicated in the bribe-taking, according to a Xinhua report on Friday, analysts say she is unlikely to be tried again or see further punishment.

She has already been given a suspended death sentence for murdering British businessman Neil Heywood. And despite the official statement also implicating unspecified members of Bo's family, which was widely seen as a reference to son Bo Guagua , lawyers and political analysts say the younger Bo is unlikely to be affected as he is believed to be hiding in the US and is unlikely to return to China.

Bo Guagua issued a statement via his Tumblr social media account on Saturday, saying: "It is hard for me to believe the allegations that were announced against my father, because they contradict everything I have come to know about him … Although the policies he enacted are open to debate, the father I know is upright in his beliefs and devoted to his duties."

Lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan said it was likely Bo's trial would be rushed through because the leadership had already given its decision and legal proceedings were considered a formality.

He said: "Given the nature of Bo's trial, which looks set to be closed to the public due to paramount concerns outside the law, I think it is quite possible that Bo will be prosecuted and stand trial before the party congress."

He said it was likely Bo would be formally arrested after the National People's Congress approves a decision by the legislature in Chongqing to remove him from the national legislature.

Hong Kong-based political observer Johnny Lau Yui-siu said the case against Bo was a charade and that talk about rule of law and due process was aimed at minimising the impact of Bo's case and setting the stage for the upcoming transition.

Lau said: "I think we will see the court ruling on Bo within a month, because his case has been the last remaining obstacle to a smooth power succession following the completion of most personnel decisions."

He said the reason Beijing decided to throw the book at Bo after months of deliberation was largely Bo's defiance after his sacking and his unrestrained ambition for higher office, which were seen as threats to the façade of unity within the leadership.

But Beijing-based historian Zhang Lifan and He Weifang , a law professor at Peking University, said a hasty trial would deal another blow to the party's crumbling credibility.

Zhang said: "The speedy trial of such a senior party leader goes against common sense because the leadership should have nothing more to fear about a Bo comeback, as he has been stripped of his party membership."

He Weifang said Bo's case, as well as the trials of Gu and Wang Lijun - Bo's former top aide whose attempted defection to the US consulate in Chengdu exposed the murder of Heywood - were apparently politically motivated and showed the ugliness of power politics.

He said: "No one seems to know the answers to so many unanswered questions regarding Bo's downfall and the murder scandal because they are not being treated as legal matters in the first place. All we have seen is the result of political intrigue and a power struggle."

Liu, the lawyer, noted that authorities, including prosecutors and the court in Hefei where Gu was tried, glossed over their previous claims that the murder resulted from a business dispute over a failed property deal involving Gu, Bo Guagua and Heywood.

"What a shame for the country's justice system, as Beijing has placed itself in a dilemma over how to proceed with such a charge," Liu said. "Although Gu is unlikely to be given a harsher sentence - which could mean execution - regardless of whether her case will be reopened or not, where is the dignity and effectiveness of China's judicial system?"