Updated at 6.50 a.m. EST on 2012-09-21
The implication of former Chongqing Communist Party boss Bo Xilai in a criminal act during the trial of his one-time police chief suggests that criminal proceedings against him may not be far away, analysts said this week.
Bo's former right-hand man and police chief Wang Lijun tried to tell "the Chongqing party committee's main responsible person at the time" that Bo's wife, Gu Kailai, was suspected of murdering a British businessman, state media reported after Wang's trial closed on Tuesday.
But Wang was "angrily rebuked and had his ears boxed," the state-run Xinhua news agency reported in a document that expands on and clarifies the ruling Communist Party's official word on the Chongqing scandal, which first came to public attention with Wang's unprecedented visit to a U.S. diplomatic mission in February.
The unnamed, but nonetheless direct, reference to Bo means that criminal charges against him now look more likely, Chinese political commentators said.
Professor Xia Ming, a political science teacher at the College of Staten Island in New York, said he thinks that criminal charges now look likely for Bo, who has previously only been reported as being under investigation by the Party's internal commission for discipline inspection.
Bo's wife, Gu Kailai, was handed a suspended death sentence last month for the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood in Chongqing last November.
Xia said the charges already made against Wang Lijun of "bending the law for selfish ends" could mean that the authorities will make him carry full responsibility for covering up Heywood's murder, but it could equally well pave the way for similar charges against Bo himself.
However, he said the authorities could be finding it hard to secure reliable witnesses against Bo.
"Of course Gu Kailai wouldn't want to damage her own interests or her son's interests [by testifying against Bo]," Xia said.
Details still unknown
U.S.-based commentator Liu Nianchun said the official account, which was apparently based on Wang's "confession" to investigators, was the first mention of Bo Xilai, even though it referred to him by job title rather than by name, since the scandal broke following Wang's visit to the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu on Feb. 6.
However, the details of the conversation between Wang and Bo that precipitated the visit remain unknown, he said, and the likely severity of the case against Bo will probably boil down to exactly how much the former Chongqing Party boss knew about the exact circumstances surrounding Neil Heywood's death.
"There are two main factions in the highest echelons of the Communist Party, but it's hard so far to see any initial signs of what they are planning to do about Bo Xilai," Liu added.
Xia said Bo's fate is now likely in the hands of vice-president Xi Jinping, who is expected to take over from president Hu Jintao at a forthcoming leadership transition later this year.
"Xi Jinping will have to consider two things," Xia said. "One is whether or not Bo Xilai's existence could develop into a future threat to him."
"The other is that Xi himself is a scion of the Party and a princeling in his own right," he said. "So perhaps he won't be too harsh on Bo Xilai."
The Bo scandal has exposed to public view rifts within China's secretive ruling Communist Party, highlighting tensions between Bo's populist, left-wing policies and the supporters of Hu and Xi, ahead of a crucial, once-in-a-decade leadership transition.
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 reign in the city.
Wang, 52, is reported to have told U.S. envoys in Chengdu about the murder, and part of his trial was held behind closed doors on Monday so that sensitive material and "state secrets" could he heard by the court, sources said at the time.
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).
Reported by Yang Jiadai for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.