China's Bo 'Unlikely' to Get Tough Sentence


2013-08-30
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china-bo-cctv-aug2013.gif A screen grab from Chinese state television CCTV shows Bo Xilai (L) seated in the courtroom at the Intermediate People's Court in Jinan, Shandong province, Aug. 23, 2013.
AFP PHOTO/CCTV

China's disgraced politician Bo Xilai, whose dramatic trial closed this week amid revelations of a love triangle at the heart of the biggest scandal to rock the ruling Chinese Communist Party in decades, is unlikely to receive a severe penalty for the corruption charges against him, analysts said.

"He won't get a heavy sentence, because the trend of this case has been to make heavier charges into lighter ones," Xia Yeliang, political economy professor at the prestigious Beijing University, told a recent discussion hosted by RFA's Mandarin Service.

"The severest penalty he could get would be a suspended death sentence, like [his wife] Gu Kailai," Xia said. "I think the most he will get is around 20 years' imprisonment."

"My personal guess is around 10 years."

Bo's trial closed on Monday with demands from prosecutors for a "severe" punishment for the former Chongqing Party chief at the heart of a murder and corruption scandal that has shaken the Communist Party since February 2012.

Bo's crimes of bribery, embezzlement, and abuse of power were "extremely serious" and there were no mitigating factors, prosecutors told the Jinan Intermediate People's Court, sparking speculation that Bo's retraction of his earlier confessions to Party investigators might earn him the death penalty.

"He pleaded not guilty to the charges, and there are no extenuating circumstances suggesting lighter punishment. It must be dealt with severely according to the law," the prosecution was quoted as saying in the official edited transcript of the trial posted to the Court's account on the Twitter-like service Sina Weibo.

'Extremely serious'

Judges may hand down the death penalty in cases of bribery involving more than 100,000 yuan (U.S. $16,000), in the absence of a guilty plea or any mitigating circumstances.

The prosecution told the court: "The defendant's crimes are extremely serious."

The court will announce the verdict "at a date to be decided," the official news agency Xinhua reported after the trial ended.

U.S.-based political scholar Wang Juntao said that Bo's status as a rallying symbol for the Maoist left in the Party could protect him when it comes to sentencing.

"If they hand down a severe sentence, then they risk turning him into an even bigger spiritual leader of the left," Wang said.

And according to Xia, president Xi Jinping's anti-corruption campaign is unlikely to deliver on its promise to go after the "tigers and the flies," in a reference to high- and low-ranking officials.

"Actually, the tigers are unlikely to be much hurt by it," he said, in reference to the highest-ranking Party officials.

Xi has warned that the Party must beat graft or lose power, sparking a nationwide clampdown on corruption.

However, political analysts say that officials with friends in the right places are unlikely to be touched by the crackdown, and reports suggest many are liquidating their assets and moving overseas.

However, China's leaders still fear that the once-powerful and charismatic Bo could make a political comeback, recent reports have indicated.

Feisty defense

On the final day of his five-day trial, which was attended only by state media and broadcast in edited blog posts by the Jinan court, Bo mounted a feisty defense, cross-examining witnesses, dismissing his wife as "insane," and attacking the standard of the evidence presented against him throughout.

He exposed what he said was a tangle of love relationships between himself, extramarital lovers, his wife Gu Kailai, murdered British businessman Neil Heywood, and his former Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun.

In his final words to the court, Bo painted himself as a largely honest official yet an unfaithful husband, "haunted" by regret, and unable to govern his own family or officials.

But while Bo admitted he had made mistakes linked to the Heywood murder investigation and bore "some responsibility" for embezzled state funds that transferred to one of Gu's bank accounts, he denied all formal charges against him.

Wang said the new administration under president Xi Jinping would need to weigh Bo's remaining support in the Party carefully when deciding on his sentence.

"Bo's support comes from three sources: one is the lowest-ranking members of society, whose interests have been hurt by economic reforms," Wang said.

"The second source is the princelings in the Party, because they stick together when preserving their grip on power, and the third is those people at the heart of the Party who hope that the Bo affair will cause enough chaos to give them a chance at power," he said.

But he said Bo's enduring appeal to Party leftists and to China's most disadvantaged groups wouldn't necessarily mean a political comeback for the man himself.

"Just over a year ago, a lot of people believed that Bo Xilai's political career was over," he said.

"I told them that the political life of Bo Xilai would no longer take place in the inner sanctum of the Communist Party."

15-year term expected

Wang said he expected Bo to receive a 15-year jail term, the same as that handed to his former right-hand man and Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun.

According to Bo, Wang's Feb. 6, 2012 flight to the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu had been motivated by his love for Gu, which "confused and overwhelmed" him.

Sources close to the case have previously suggested that Wang was hoping to save his own skin after it emerged that Gu was a chief suspect in the Heywood murder.

Bo also said he had signed a confession while in custody of Party investigators in the hope of resuscitating his political career.

Gu was handed a suspended death sentence, commutable to a lengthy jail term on good behavior, in August 2012, for her role in Heywood's murder.

Wang was jailed for 15 years last September for corruption, abuse of power, and defection.

Bo's populist campaigns of revolutionary songs and anti-crime campaigns won him many plaudits during his tenure in Chongqing, but lawyers and defendants caught up in his "strike black" campaigns say they were rife with forced confessions, torture and other abuses, with many people targeted for their wealth alone.

China scored poorly in an annual global corruption index published last year by Transparency International, ranking 80th out of 176 countries, down five places from the previous year.

Reported by Shi Shan for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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