Bo Xilai

Trial has made return home harder for Bo Guagua

Evidence suggesting Bo Xilai's son benefited from illicit payments to powerful parents will likely keep him overseas for foreseeable future

PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 30 August, 2013, 5:14am

The dramatic trial of disgraced former Politburo member Bo Xilai will likely close the book on his once-promising political career. But one aspect of the saga remains unresolved - the fate of his son, Bo Guagua.

The younger Bo's name came up repeatedly during the trial, mostly to explain what motivated his mother, Gu Kailai, to solicit gifts and pay-offs from tycoons who had business with her husband.

The proceedings appear to have limited Bo Guagua's options; his mother is serving a suspended death sentence for murder and his father is waiting for what will almost certainly be a guilty verdict.

Moreover, evidence presented at court portrayed him as a pampered playboy who benefited from his mother's ill-gotten money, making it even harder to return home.

Perhaps his best choice would be to remain where he is, in the United States, and avoid entangling himself further in the family's corruption saga.

He enrolled in Columbia Law School in New York for the autumn term, suggesting that he may be preparing for a long period in exile. It takes three years to earn a law degree, at a cost of US$80,000 a year, including living expenses.

Even before the fall of his father in March last year, Bo Guagua was the subject of the kind of controversy that routinely swirls around the offspring of the rich and powerful.

The 25-year-old has tried hard to shake that image. In an interview with a mainland publication in 2009, he said he lived in a "slum area" when he lived in Britain and was extremely frugal.

However that image was dented by trial evidence that indicated a far from meagre existence. He hired a private jet to fly from Dubai to Mount Kilimanjaro at a cost of US$80,000, and paid the airfare for his foreign friends to visit Beijing.

The bill for much of this was footed by property tycoon Xu Ming . If Bo Guagua had been in China, he could have been prosecuted for taking bribes, especially as he is older than 16, the age at which a person can stand trial on criminal charges.

"Legally speaking, the younger Bo is suspected of being an accomplice," said Beijing-based lawyer Mao Lixin . "He is allegedly involved in the scam."

Beijing would face difficulties if it wanted to charge Bo Guagua, because China and the US do not have an extradition treaty.

However, June Teufel Dreyer, a professor of political science at the University of Miami in Florida, said Guagua would have been too young to be deeply involved in any crimes his parents might have committed, and the central government would be unlikely to prosecute.

"His best option is to concentrate on his studies and get a job with a good law firm after graduation. Since he is bilingual, and Columbia Law is a well-regarded school, this should be easy," Dreyer said.

In the meantime, criticism of his lifestyle has not subsided. Some mainland internet users have called on Columbia to expel Bo Guagua due to suspicions over the source of his tuition fees.

Bo Guagua can assess the situation on the mainland and decide whether to return.

"If the climate in China isn't conducive to his return, Bo Guagua can enjoy his good job and good life in the US," Dreyer said.