China opens trial of ousted politician Bo Xilai

Associated Press
In this March 11, 2012 photo, Bo Xilai, former Chongqing party secretary wipes his glasses during a plenary session of the National People's Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Disgraced Chinese politician Bo will stand trial at the court on Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013 on charges of corruption and abuse of power. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
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JINAN, China (AP) — Disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai went on trial Thursday on charges of bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power, as the ruling Communist Party seeks to wrap up one of its most lurid political scandals in decades.

Bo entered the courthouse under police escort in the eastern city of Jinan, court officials said, in closely choreographed proceedings held under tight security, with officers sealing off nearby roads with red and yellow barriers and bundling onlookers into a minivan.

Once a powerful party boss of a megacity, Bo became the most senior leader to fall from power in years after revelations emerged that his wife had killed a British businessman. His removal marked China's biggest upheaval in the leadership since the violent suppression of the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests in 1989.

The scandal was triggered last year when Bo's police chief, a top aide, fled to a U.S. consulate in a neighboring city last year, an event that embarrassed the party's leadership ahead of a key political transition. It would later emerge that the police chief had evidence of the Briton's murder, making the Bo family an international diplomatic liability for the leadership.

Chinese authorities have released few details of the charges Bo faces, but analysts say they appear calibrated to lay blame on Bo's individual actions and end his political career, while avoiding allegations that could expose the impunity with which top Chinese officials are believed to operate before they fall from favor.

A person with direct knowledge of the case has said Bo is accused of accepting bribes amounting to more than 20 million yuan ($3.3 million) and embezzling 5 million yuan ($820,000) while he was in the eastern city of Dalian. The abuse of power allegation is related to his alleged attempts to block an investigation into the murder by his wife in late 2011 and his sacking of his police chief, reports say.

 A verdict of guilt is all but assured as the outcome of such trials involving high-profile politicians in China are usually decided by backroom negotiations by politicians and handed down by the court. Bo's downfall has also been widely perceived as the result of his defeat in party infighting.

"Bo Xilai's faction fell out of grace during the power struggle among top leaders" ahead of a key political transition last year, said Pu Zhiqiang, a prominent human rights lawyer based in Beijing. "Now they are using these anti-corruption measures to indict him with bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power. In reality, it does not matter what he is charged with ... because this is it is a political trial, which does not represent the spirit of law."

Bo's wife, Gu Kailai, confessed to killing Neil Heywood and was handed a suspended death sentence last year that will likely be commuted to life imprisonment. Bo's aide, Wang Lijun, was sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment for making a thwarted defection bid and helping Gu cover up the murder.

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