The trial of fallen Chinese political star Bo Xilai could start in the next few days, according to a variety of news reports.
While members of Bo's legal defense team say they have yet to be informed of a trial date, sources told media outside China that the trial for corruption and abuse of power could be held in Shandong's provincial capital, Jinan.
A report in Hong Kong's English-language South China Morning Post said details of the charges against the former Chongqing chief of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, who was once widely tipped for a seat on the all-powerful Politburo standing committee, had been read out at high-level meetings across the country.
Bo is accused of receiving more than 20 million yuan (U.S.$3.26 million) in bribes and embezzling another 5 million yuan (U.S. $815,000), the paper said.
Meanwhile, an anonymous source told Reuters that the trial could start this week in Jinan, although other cities had also been instructed to prepare for a possible trial.
"We don't have any news about this," one of Bo's lawyers, Li Guifang, told RFA's Mandarin Service on Wednesday. "We don't know exactly what's going on."
The authorities have yet to announce a trial date for Bo, who still commands considerable support within the Party and among ordinary Chinese.
Some have speculated that the trial may have been delayed thus far because the feisty Bo is refusing to cooperate.
Hong Kong-based media with close ties to Beijing initially ran similar reports to non-Chinese media, but these were deleted within a few hours.
Tweets mentioning the reports were deleted from popular social media sites on Wednesday, while searches in Chinese for "Bo Xilai" on the Sina and Tencent Weibo microblogs, as well as Baidu's Tieba service, yielded no results.
Each service displayed the message: "According to the relevant laws and policies, we have been unable to display your search results."
Cai Yongmei, editor of the Hong Kong current affairs magazine Kaifang said the Party appeared to be keeping a tight leash on the media ahead of the trial.
"Mainland China has a tight grip on the media, and they believe that a big, important news story like this should only be announced by Xinhua news agency," Cai said.
"The [reports you mention] fall outside their notion of a unified channel for information."
Fallen political star
Bo's rise to power was abruptly halted when his Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun made a dramatic flight by car to the U.S. Embassy in Chengdu on Feb. 6, 2012, emerging the following morning to give himself up to investigators from the central government in Beijing.
Wang was hired by then Chongqing Party Secretary Bo, the charismatic "princeling" son of Party elder Bo Yibo, to spearhead his campaign against organized crime, which lawyers have since said targeted innocent businessmen with torture and forced confessions.
After rising to prominence as mayor of the northeastern port city of Dalian, Bo Xilai later became associated with a campaign to bring back revolutionary songs and Mao-era socialist morality to Chongqing.
Chongqing has since done its best to wipe Bo's traces from the city, overturning some labor camp convictions handed down under his rule.
Between a rock and hard place
Bo is now being held at a secret location awaiting trial.
His wife Gu Kailai received a suspended death sentence in August 2012 for the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood, in which Bo has been judged by Party statements to hold "major responsibility."
Wang was jailed for 15 years in September for corruption, defection, and abuse of power.
Shenzhen-based political commentator Zhu Jianguo said administration of President Xi Jinping had likely been dragging out the scheduling of Bo's trial because they felt caught between two undesirable outcomes.
"If [Xi] doesn't handle this well, it will affect his shift to the left, and set in train a whole series of problems," Zhu said.
"But he can't not handle it at all, because he has already promised to tackle tigers and flies [large- and small-scale corruption] at the same time."
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service and by Hai Nan for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.