Bo Xilai trial gives rare insight into infighting at the top
China's biggest political trial in decades gave a rare insight into power and corruption among the elite
The microblogging of the trial of Bo Xilai, China's biggest political case in decades, gave the public its first glimpse into the inner workings of the nation's elite, providing lurid details of infighting and corruption within official circles, the tangled web of relations between politicians and businessmen and the hatred and betrayal that surrounded a senior official's family.
The former Politburo member and Chongqing party boss denied all charges of bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power. A verdict is expected next month.
The story of Bo's fall from grace unfolded over five days:
Bo: "I was under huge pressure and I was offered incentives [to confess]."
Prosecutors presented testimony from Bo's former business associates Tang Xiaolin and Xu Ming, and his wife, Gu Kailai. All three said Bo accepted bribes worth over 21 million yuan (HK$26.6 million).
Although he confessed to the allegations during questioning by party investigators before the trial, he dismissed his statements in court, saying he was manipulated into making them by anti-graft officials asking leading questions.
Tang, an old colleague of Bo from his days as a factory worker during the Cultural Revolution, said in written testimonies and video presented to the Jinan court, that he had made millions of yuan thanks to favours from Bo and, in return, had paid Bo three separate bribes totalling 1.1 million yuan. Calling his old friend a "lying mad dog" and "an ugly person who has sold his soul", Bo said he had been unaware of Tang's real intentions when he authorised a property project and an application for importing cars at Tang's request. He denied Tang's allegations of bribe-taking.
But, according to Gu's written testimony, she took sums of money from safes in the couple's homes in Shenyang and Beijing on three occasions between 2002 and 2005. Gu said the money must have been Bo's, as it was not hers and they were the only ones with access to it.
Gu said she and their son, Bo Guagua, who studied at Harrow School and later Oxford, spent the money after taking it to Britain. Bo denied the claims, calling her testimony "very comical and ridiculous".
Bo also sought to distance himself from Dalian property tycoon Xu, who testified in court. Bo said Xu was "a friend of Gu" and they had nothing in common to talk about.
Xu said he paid €2.3 million to buy a villa for the Bo family in France and spent 100,000 yuan to fund a trip to Africa for Bo Guagua in 2000. Xu also paid 300,000 yuan to help the younger Bo pay his credit card bills and gave him 80,000 yuan to buy a scooter. The elder Bo denied knowledge of such payments.
Bo: "I think Kailai's testimony is driven by duress and desire for commutation."
Videotaped testimony by Bo's wife, who was jailed for the 2011 murder of British businessman Neil Heywood, was put on the Jinan Intermediate People's Court microblog.
Looking pale and thin, a soft-spoken Gu told prosecutors about a French holiday villa allegedly given by property tycoon Xu to the family as a bribe in 2001.
Xu, who was considered the Bo family's "money man", was viewed by them as "very kind and considerate", Gu said. She used his contacts and money to buy various items, including airline tickets.
Prosecutors presented testimony from witnesses, including Gu and former Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun, describing how French architect Patrick Devillers helped Gu build a complex network of front companies to hide links between the Bo family and the six-bedroom mansion on the French Riviera, which had a swimming pool and 4,000 square-metre garden. Nominal ownership of the property was transferred to other people over the years, including Jiang Feng, a state television anchor and Xu's then girlfriend, as Gu was worried the couple's ownership would be exposed.
Continuing his defiant stand, Bo said most of the evidence presented to the court failed to prove allegations of bribery, as he was unaware of the incidents described. He said the first he knew of the villa was when he heard Gu and Xu talking about it one day after he returned home from work. He described Gu and Xu's testimonies as fiction and Wang's as "nonsense".
The court also heard the first detailed account of the events leading up to the murder of Heywood. Bo questioned the state of his wife's mental health, saying Gu had compared herself to the historical would-be assassin Jing Ke and told him she had felt heroic when killing Heywood.
Gu said in a statement that she believed the safety of Bo Guagua was at risk after her relationship with Heywood - once a nominal owner of the villa - went sour over a business project. She said that, although Wang had sent people to protect Guagua, who was studying in Harvard, she continued to fear for his safety after his image was cut off in a video call between them in 2011.
The court later heard testimony from Wang Zhenggang, the former head of 8Dalian's urban and rural planning bureau, who accused Bo of embezzling five million yuan from a secret government project.
Wang: It was very dangerous for me at the time. First, I was treated with violence. Then, people who worked for me and the investigators on the case disappeared."
The third day of the trial saw Bo face two of his former subordinates: Wang Zhenggang and Wang Lijun.
Wang Zhenggang told the court that he had suggested Bo keep five million yuan which had been allocated from an upper level of government to the Dalian government - where Bo served as mayor - on completion of a classified project in 2002.
He advised Bo to spend it on Gu and Bo Guagua. Wang said he talked to Gu and had the money transferred to a law firm, whose director kept the money on Gu's behalf.
According to Gu's testimony, Bo had a "very implicit" way of speaking and the two understood what the matter was about without voicing it directly.
"We both knew very clearly that Wang Zhenggang wanted to give money to Bo Xilai and 8myself," Gu said.
Bo said Wang's allegation was "self-contradictory" and "far away from the reality".
He said his elder son, Li Wangzhi, from his first marriage, also studied overseas and he never worried about his financial status. He never worried about his younger son either, as Gu told him Guagua was outstanding and had a scholarship. Besides, Gu had a very high income as she had a law firm with branches in five cities, he said.
He also denied talking with Gu over the phone about secretly taking the money, as Wang testified, saying he was a careful person and that everyone who knew him knew he would ask them to turn off their mobiles before talking to him.
He also revealed Gu arranged for their son to study at middle school in the UK because she was angry after learning he had an affair. But he insisted Gu would never complain about financial issues as she had very high self-esteem.
After the hearing moved to the charge of abuse of power, Bo's former right-hand man Wang Lijun - now serving a 15-year jail sentence for bribery - told how his boss punched him after he informed Bo that Gu was the suspected killer of Heywood.
"It was very dangerous for me at the time. First, I was treated with violence. Then, people who worked for me and the investigators on the case disappeared," he recalled. Once known as China's toughest police officer, the 54-year-old was in such frail health that he was taken into court in a wheelchair and shook while giving testimony. Bo said he thought Wang was "two-faced" and he was sceptical of his claims as he regarded the relationship between Wang and Gu to be "extremely good". He admitted errors of judgment and said he felt ashamed by Wang's flight to the US consulate in Chengdu as it reflected badly on the country and the party.
Bo: "Wang's testimony was full of lies."
The court completed its investigation into allegations about Bo's abuse of power, the third of the three charges against the fallen star, on the fourth day. The accusations included 8removing Wang Lijun as Chongqing police chief without following procedure, allowing his wife to interfere with the handling of Wang's defection to the US consulate in Chengdu and covering up Gu's murder of Heywood. Bo continued his scathing attacks on Wang. "Wang's personality is extremely vile," Bo said in his defence. "He's lying in court, and he is trying to muddy the waters."
Bo said rather than punching Wang, as the latter testified, he only slapped him. "I've never practised boxing, nor am I a powerful puncher." Bo's lawyer told the court that Wang had displayed "extreme hostility" towards him "the minute he showed up in court", and said that Wang was trying to "threaten" Bo by discussing the Heywood murder.
Evidence from other Chongqing government officials stated they had told Bo that the consent of the Ministry of Public Security was needed to remove Wang from his post, but Bo ignored the advice. Gu said in her testimony that, at a meeting between Bo and officials to discuss Wang's bid to defect to the consulate, she suggested that Wang's mental problem should be cited as a reason to remove him.
Gu, with the consent of Bo, asked a hospital to provide a diagnosis indicating that Wang was suffering from severe depression.
Bo: "My wife and Wang are as inseparable as paint and glue."
The fallen politician made the best use of what was probably his last chance on the public stage to assert his innocence, shifting deftly from aggressive to sympathetic and back again.
In one instant, he described himself as a "working machine", one who had little time to ponder mundane issues as trivial as his son's travel tickets and hotel expenses.
The princeling son of Bo Yibo, one of the Communist Party's "eight immortals", defended his family name, claiming he had been wearing long johns his mother bought for him in the 1960s, and would in no way like the idea of a playboy son living flamboyantly if he had not been misled by his wife.
In the last part of his defence, Bo revealed that his wife had had an illicit love affair with his former right-hand man, triggering lively gossip online.
In a bid to counter the charge of abuse of power, Bo said the two key prosecution witness were "as inseparable as paint and glue", and their "extremely special relationship" was the real reason Wang had sought refuge at the consulate in Chengdu in February last year, the incident that exposed Gu's murder of Heywood and blew open China's biggest political scandal in decades.
"He [Wang] intruded into my family. He hurt my feelings to the core," Bo said.
In closing remarks, he said he was flawed, but denied all three charges.
"I know I'm far from being perfect. I'm subjective and ill-tempered. I have made serious errors and mistakes. I did a poor job of keeping my house in order and that had a bad effect on the country," he told the court.
According to some sources, Bo even questioned the fairness of the trial, asking why some 8authoritative media had concluded his alleged graft concerned "an extremely huge amount of money" before a court ruling had even been reached. He said: "This is against democracy, rule of law, fairness and justice."