Sentence harsher than initially expected for the former Communist party leading light found guilty of corruption
China has jailed controversial former politician Bo Xilai for life as it attempts to draw a line under the country’s biggest political scandal for decades.
Bo’s conviction for bribery, corruption and power abuses was a foregone conclusion, but he refused to go quietly and his cocksure performance in last month’s five-day trial brought a harsher punishment than most analysts had initially predicted. Before the hearings they had expected a sentence of 15 to 20 years, given his seniority.
Instead judges at Jinan intermediate people’s court handed the former Chongqing party boss life for bribery, 15 years for embezzlement and seven years for abuse of power, to run concurrently; he will be eligible for parole in about a decade. He was also deprived of his political rights for life.
The court has confiscated 20m yuan (£2m) worth of his property, and have already handed over 5m yuan relating to bribes to the government in Dalian, where Bo was formerly in charge. Another 1m yuan relates to the corruption charge.
Bo has 10 days to launch an appeal. A shot released by the court showed the 64-year-old looking cheerful as he faced the judges, handcuffed and wearing an open-necked white shirt, black trousers and black running shoes.
Three of his family members were among the 116 people in court to hear the verdict, which was announced by the court on its microblog and by the state news agency Xinhua.
Bo had offered an outspoken defence of his tenure during his trial. Officials provided unusual detail on the case, with a microblog feed by the court carrying transcripts of key exchanges.
But the judges dismissed the defence argument that Bo’s initial testimony was given under duress and that his wife Gu Kailai’s evidence was inadmissible due to mental illness.
Hundreds of police guarded the closed-off streets around the court on Sunday, allowing only residents and accredited reporters to enter and ensuring no protesters could approach.
The verdict is intended to draw a line beneath a messy affair that cast an unflattering and unwelcome light on the country’s political elite. Bo’s wife Gu Kailai was convicted and jailed last year for the murder of the British businessman Neil Heywood; the allegations first emerged when Bo argued with his police chief Wang Lijun, who then fled to the US consulate in Chengdu.
It prepares the way for a key party meeting this autumn, which many hope will bring financial and economic reforms.
Scholar Zhang Lifan said both the trial of Bo and the crackdown on “internet rumours” were about establishing the authority of the new leadership.
But he noted: “The backlash is strong, and the media that belong to different factions still have different voices. Among the masses, the instinct to support Bo is still widespread. They don’t have much certainty of clearing out all the oppositional voices before the plenary session.”
Bo won the support of ordinary people by speaking their language, promising to focus on their concerns and introducing concrete, if often divisive, initiatives, such as a crackdown on gangs. Even in his trial, he took the opportunity to stress his concern with poverty.
Chen Ziming, a Beijing-based scholar, said: “The next thing for [Communist party general-secretary] Xi Jinping and the party will be to keep fighting against the ‘tigers’ [senior officials]. This is also the only thing that they can do, because Xi will not do other things that people expect. By the way: China has a lot of tigers that he can fight with.”
But he said he believed the goal was to reach an accommodation with Bo’s supporters and internal party opposition, rather than to clear them out.
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