Updated at 5:35 p.m. EST on 2012-09-28
The ruling Chinese Communist Party on Friday expelled former rising political star Bo Xilai from its ranks, saying criminal proceedings against him would follow, and that Bo was "responsible" for the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood.
The Party Central Committee said Bo's case would now be handed over to law enforcement agencies after he was stripped of his Party membership and formally removed from his public posts at a meeting in Beijing on Friday, official media reported.
Bo "seriously violated" Party discipline during his tenure as Commerce Minister, as Party secretary of the northeastern port city of Dalian, and, most recently, in the southwestern megacity of Chongqing, Xinhua news agency said.
"Bo abused his power, made severe mistakes and bore major responsibility in the Wang Lijun incident and the intentional homicide case of [his wife, Gu] Kailai," it said, citing Bo's former right-hand man and police chief who on Monday was ordered jailed for 15 years.
Seven years of the sentence was for the charge of "bending the law for selfish ends" and a further two years was for "abuse of power," with both linked to charges that Wang knew that Gu was connected to the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood last November and did not pursue the investigation further.
Bo "took advantage of his office to seek profits for others and received huge bribes personally and through his family," Xinhua said.
The Party Central Committee had heard how Bo's powerful position was also abused by Gu, the agency said.
"The Bo family accepted a huge amount of money and property from others," it said, adding that "Bo had or maintained improper sexual relationships with a number of women."
The evidence also suggested his involvement in dubious personnel decisions and in "other crimes," Xinhua reported.
"Bo's behaviors have yielded serious consequences, badly undermined the reputation of the Party and the country, created very negative impacts at home and abroad and significantly damaged the cause of the Party and the people," the Central Committee concluded.
Analysts and rights activists said the courts would likely come down heavily on one of China's former political stars, the "princeling" son of revolutionary veteran Bo Yibo, who has rocked the highest echelons of leadership with the biggest political scandal in two decades.
Chongqing-based netizen Fang Hong, who was sent to labor camp during Wang Lijun's anti-crime campaigns in the city, welcomed the announcement, saying that a number of convictions looked set to be overturned from Bo's tenure as Party chief there.
"The tone of the Central Committee announcement was very severe, so it looks likely they will execute him," Fang said. "I think the crimes they refer to could add up to a death penalty."
"They aren't trying to minimize his crimes."
Beijing-based lawyer Li Zhuang, who was imprisoned after speaking out about forced confessions during Bo and Wang's high-profile "strike black" anti-mafia campaigns, said that the announcement was unsurprising, but that the final outcome was still unknown.
"It's hard for us to predict anything right now," Li said. "We will have to wait for the final verdict from the trial."
"We haven't seen any of the important evidence yet, nor do we know what the criminal charges against [Bo] will be."
The Bo scandal has exposed to public view rifts within the secretive Communist Party, highlighting tensions between Bo's populist, left-wing policies and the supporters of Hu and Xi, ahead of the crucial leadership transition in November.
Chongqing-based rights activist Li Guohong said Bo's "sing red, strike red" revolutionary song and anti-mafia campaigns in Chongqing had heralded a possible return to the political turmoil of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), and that his emergence could indicate a power struggle within the Party.
"How did a leader like Bo Xilai emerge?" Li said. "There must be some problems behind the scenes."
"There are some political struggles mixed up with this," he said.
Jiang Weiping, a former Chinese journalist who was jailed for exposing corruption by Bo and Gu, said that Bo had "skillfully utilized media to brand and to glorify himself."
"Thus today when the social polarization deepens in China, some grassroot people even bet their hope for changing China on Bo Xilai."
Jiang said Bo's case has to ultimately lead to political reform in China that allows a multi-party system.
"If a multiparty system cannot be realized, then at least factions within the party should be allowed to play that role by acting legally and openly on issues. In this way, with the public oversight, we can prevent people like Bo Xilai from appearing again," Jiang added.
China's foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Bo's case would be handled "according to Party discipline and national law." But he declined to comment further on the announcement.
Gu was handed a suspended death sentence last month for Heywood's murder.
Bo's detractors say he and Wang waged a campaign of terror in Chongqing, using their "strike black" anti-crime campaigns to target innocent businessmen and confiscate their assets. Lawyers linked to the campaigns have described torture and forced confessions as commonplace during Bo's tenure there.
Bo was removed from his post in Chongqing, where he had been regarded as a top contender for a seat on the all-powerful standing committee of the Politburo, on March 15, shortly after a strongly worded warning from premier Wen Jiabao that a failure to enact political reform in China could see a return to the turmoil and violence of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).
In a new twist to the drama, a prominent Chinese government forensic scientist cast doubt on the official version of the scandal, saying there was "no evidence" to support the claim that Heywood died from cyanide poisoning.
In a post to her blog that has since been removed, Wang Xuemei, a forensic expert with the top prosecutors' agency, said the official accounts lack sufficient evidence that Heywood died from cyanide poisoning, which she describes as leaving the body obviously discolored, the Associated Press reported.
Wang confirmed in a phone interview Thursday that she is the author of the blog entry posted late Wednesday detailing her suspicions about the case. She said she has had no access to the evidence, but points out discrepancies in details that have been made public.
Reported by Hai Nan for RFA's Cantonese service and Tang Qiwei for the Mandarin service. Translated by Luisetta Mudie and Ping Chen. Written in English by Luisetta Mudie.