JINAN, China – A court on Friday dismissed ousted politician Bo Xilai’s appeal against his conviction and life sentence for corruption and abuse of power in one of China’s most politically charged trials in decades.
The ruling by the Shandong Provincial Higher People’s Court came as no surprise, with many political analysts saying such an outcome was predetermined by Communist Party leaders keen to put Bo away long enough to prevent him from making a comeback.
Bo was found guilty of embezzlement, bribery and abuse of power by a lower court in the same province late last month and sentenced to life in prison. He put up a robust defense during his five-day trial, denying the charges and recanting earlier confessions.
Authorities in the city of Jinan imposed a heavy security presence around the courthouse early Friday ahead of the ruling, closing buildings and streets in the vicinity, including a five-lane arterial road.
The conclusion of Bo’s case bolts the door closed on a vexing scandal for the Communist Party leadership that included embarrassing revelations that Bo’s wife murdered a British businessman and that his former aide made a failed attempt to defect to the United States.
Friday’s ruling enables Chinese President Xi Jinping to further unify party leaders who may have been divided over how Bo’s fate should be handled and to steer public focus toward the initiatives of the team he leads. Topping the agenda are a meeting of party leaders in November to draw up a blueprint for economic development and an anti-corruption effort that has been the hallmark campaign of Xi’s leadership so far.
“Xi Jinping is anxious to put together at least a semblance of unity among the different factions,” said Willy Lam, an expert on Communist Party politics at Chinese University in Hong Kong. “He wants to shift the attention of the public and the Western media from something negative to something more positive.”
The court’s ruling concludes the case and ends Bo’s once illustrious career. But still unresolved are questions about who should be held responsible for the abuses of his administration in the city of Chongqing – which were conspicuously ignored during Bo’s trial.
As party boss, Bo led a crackdown on what he called mafia activities but that critics say was an excuse to arrest wealthy private entrepreneurs, torture them into confessing to crimes then jail them after summary trials and seize their assets. Even a prominent lawyer who sought to defend a businessman was put in jail.
Also left out of the public airing of his offenses was the extent to which his naked ambition to rise to the apex of Chinese political power precipitated his downfall. Instead, charges were narrowly focused – that he took $3.5 million in bribes from two business associates, embezzled government funds and abused his power in handling his wife’s murder case police chief’s defection.
The trial became a stage on which Bo fought to defend the reputation he had long cultivated as a clean, upstanding model official who rode to popularity exploiting public anger with government corruption. He said he could not be held responsible for crimes that his wife and son committed without his knowledge and said he was betrayed by his right-hand man.
The court rejected Bo’s defenses and sentenced him to life in prison on the bribery charges, 15 years for embezzlement and seven years for abuse of power.
Wong reported from Beijing.