December 6, 2013
Chinese politician Bo Xilai gets life sentence
JINAN — A court sentenced Bo Xilai to life in prison for corruption yesterday, burying the career of one of China’s most up-and-coming politicians and lowering the curtain on a scandal that exposed a murder and illicit enrichment among the country’s elite.
The former Politburó member and Chongqing city party leader was convicted of bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power yesterday in a case set in motion by his wife’s poisoning of a British business associate in late 2011. It also was widely regarded as a political prosecution and a sign that top leaders had turned against the charismatic populist.
The Jinan Intermediate People’s Court deprived Bo of political rights for life and confiscated all his personal assets. A lawyer with direct knowledge of the case said Bo indicated that the verdict was unjust and was expected to appeal, but observers say he has little chance of success. He has 10 days to appeal.
“It’s a political death sentence for him,” said Dali Yang, a political scientist at the University of Chicago. “As long as the current circumstances stay, he cannot come back.”
Despite fears of public strife or brutal political infighting spearheaded by Bo’s supporters within the leadership, there has been no major groundswell of backing for Bo, either within the Communist Party or in the public — although he remains popular among many Chinese.
The party deftly managed the potential aftershocks of the case partly by keeping the charges focused on Bo’s corruption and keeping politics out of the trial, said Jonathan Holslag, a research fellow at the Institute for Contemporary China Studies at the University of Brussels.
“The leadership has been successful because it had a clear criminal case against Bo, because it deterred Bo’s entourage from politicizing the trial, and because it matched Bo’s populism with its own promises to rip out corruption, boost growth and build a strong country,” Holslag said.
In a departure from the choreographed proceedings of other recent political trials, Bo had launched an unusually vigorous defence while on the stand last month. He denied all charges and blamed the corruption on others in his inner circle, including his wife, forgoing the leniency customarily given in Chinese courts when a defendant expresses contrition.
The charges had likely been tailored to offer a lighter sentence had Bo cooperated with prosecutors, but he declined to play along, said Willy Lam, an expert on Communist Party politics at Chinese University in Hong Kong.
“He was punished for his disobedience and defiance,” Lam said.
Bo also became the highest-level politician convicted for corruption under Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has staked his reputation on combatting graft among Communist Party members and cleaning up their image of luxurious lifestyles that has angered the Chinese public.
“The leadership wants to send a signal that this is a serious matter,” Yang said.
The court sentenced Bo to life in prison on the bribery charges, 15 years for embezzlement and seven years for abuse of power.
The court rejected Bo’s defence that he did not know about the US$3.5 million in bribes from two business associates in the form of cash and valuable gifts to his family — including a French villa, expenses-paid trips and fancy delicacies such as abalone.