"A lot of the privately run businesses [there] are basically triad [operations]," Li said, adding that the fallout from Bo's removal from office is only just beginning.
Chongqing, the largest Chinese municipality, was the epicenter of a Maoist revival campaign under Bo, who spearheaded an effort to crack down on gangs and corruption and promoted the public singing of nostalgic revolutionary songs reflecting the Cultural Revolution.
In 1966, Chinese leader Mao Zedong launched the Cultural Revolution, plunging the country into 10 years of turmoil in which millions of workers, officials, and intellectuals were banished to the countryside for hard labor. Many were tortured, killed, or driven to suicide.
Mao however retains much public affection among Chinese as a charismatic leader seen to have liberated China from what they felt was humiliating imperial subjugation.
Li said Bo wanted to use the Maoist revival campaign to achieve his political ambitions.
“I think that the singularly most important purpose of Bo Xilai’s 'red song' campaign was to facilitate his entry into the center of power in autumn this year—to show that he is the child of a high cadre and that his roots are red and politically correct. He wanted to revive people’s memories of the violence of the Cultural Revolution.”
Some say Bo, a Red Guard during the first stage of the Cultural Revolution, may have been caught in a major ideological battle.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao recently obliquely criticized Bo for fanning nostalgia for Maoist times and warned that failure to act against graft and a growing rich-poor gap could rekindle the chaos of the Cultural Revolution.
Looking back, Li described a city whose business elite were closely entangled with organized crime and a government that would make arrests almost randomly in order to be seen as doing something about it.
"In Chongqing back then ... a lot of businesspeople were taking measures to protect their personal safety and that of their families," he said.
Li's wife and 30 of his relatives were arrested on the same night that he arrived in Hong Kong, on his way to a life in exile.
His wife was sentenced to a year in prison on charges linked to the anti-gang campaign, and the government confiscated U.S. $4.5 billion of his company's assets.
Li himself was accused of "illegal business practices" and of making illegal loans, a charge he denies.
He showed RFA a file of official documents detailing his loan arrangements, but declined to have them published for fear of bringing further trouble to his relatives.
Bo's right hand man, Wang Lijun, who was vice mayor and security boss of Chongqing, was hauled to Beijing after he took refuge at the U.S. consulate in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province.
Li's account of Chongqing under Bo and Wang comes after official media reported at the weekend that a billionaire associate of Bo's from his time as Party secretary in the northeastern port city of Dalian was placed under investigation by Party discipline inspection officials for suspected "economic crimes."
Xu Ming, chairman of the chemical company Dalian Shide Group, was detained over alleged involvement in economic crimes, the National Economic Weekly reported on Saturday.
Xu, who was named the eighth richest person on China's mainland in 2005 by Forbes, also sat on the board of the Bank of Dalian.
He was detained by the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection on March 15, the same day that Bo's removal from his position in Chongqing was announced.
China's Internet censorship machine subsequently moved to crack down on online rumors, which have flooded the Chinese Internet since Bo's March 15 ouster.
Bo's whereabouts are still unknown, and the absence of any official statement on his fate has fueled speculation that China's security chief Zhou Yongkang, who is believed to have been Bo's highest-ranking political supporter, tried to stage a coup in Beijing.
Beijing closed 16 websites and disabled comments on the country's hugely popular microblog services for four days in an attempt to stem the tide of political gossip and rumor.
More to come
Li said he expected that many more of Bo's associates would be investigated in the weeks to come.
"Such an all-out campaign as the 'fight black, sing red' movement couldn't have been all [Bo's] own work," he said.
"This wasn't something that was just dreamed up by Bo Xilai and Wang Lijun themselves; there must be a huge network of interests at stake here to carry something like this through," Li said.
The People's Daily, mouthpiece of the ruling Communist Party called for "unity" in an editorial this week.
"We must be more resolute in maintaining a high degree of unity under the Party central committee led by President Hu Jintao," the paper said in one of a series of three political commentaries.
It called on China's netizens to "unify their thinking and to refuse to allow rumors or calls for progress in the midst of stability to become keywords among Internet commentators."
Xie Tian, professor of management at the University of South Carolina, said it was easy to infer from the article the sorts of problems currently being faced by the nine members of China's Politburo Standing Committee.
"One can read between the lines of this article that tells people ... not to waver, that there probably has been a bit of theoretical wavering going on," Xie said.
"The warning about laxity suggests that someone has been too relaxed, while the warning not to rock the boat suggests that someone has been doing just that," he said.
He said the whole of Chinese society was lost, ideologically speaking.
"They know that the course [China] had previously been following is a dead end, and that regression is unthinkable," Xie said.
"But no one can agree whether to turn left or to turn right."
Reported by Ho Shan and Zhang Qingyan for RFA's Cantonese service, and by Shi Shan for the Mandarin service. Translated by Luisetta Mudie and Jennifer Chou. Written in English by Luisetta Mudie.