State prosecutors initiated investigations against disgraced Bo Xilai yesterday within hours of his formal expulsion from the national legislature.
The announcement came less than a fortnight before the start of the five-yearly Communist Party congress that will see a once-in-a-decade transition of power at the top of the party.
"The Supreme People's Procuratorate has decided to put Bo Xilai under investigation for alleged criminal offences," Xinhua reported shortly before midnight. Bo was in custody, its brief report said. It did not mention any specific allegations against Bo, saying only that an "investigation is under way".
Earlier, the National People's Congress Standing Committee said it had terminated Bo's membership of the legislature, thereby removing his immunity from prosecution. He had already been stripped of all his other positions and of his party membership.
Bo, formerly a contender for membership of the party's supreme Politburo Standing Committee, is accused of corruption, abuse of power and other wrongdoings, including interfering in the investigation into the murder of a British businessman.
Bo's wife, Gu Kailai , and his former police chief, Wang Lijun , have both been jailed over the scandal, which stemmed from the murder of the businessman, Neil Heywood, last year while Bo was Communist Party chief of the southwestern municipality of Chongqing .
"This is the final administrative procedure to enable criminal proceedings against Bo sooner rather than later, as Chinese constitutional law stipulates that NPC deputies are immune from criminal prosecution," said Gu Su , an expert in constitutional law at Nanjing University.
Li Xiaolin, a lawyer appointed by Bo's family, said on Thursday that he did not expect a trial to be held until after the congress.
But Johnny Lau Yui-siu, a veteran Hong Kong-based China watcher, said the party could proceed before the congress if it wanted to, citing the fact that the courts took just days to conclude the cases of Gu Kailai and Wang.
Gu Su said Bo was likely to be handed a suspended death sentence - which is typically commuted to a life sentence. Gu Kailai was given the same sentence.
Xinhua reported that Bo "bore major responsibility" for the murder of Heywood.
The Politburo, of which Bo was a member, announced last month that he would "face justice" for abuse of power, taking bribes and improper sexual relations.