CHINA - Clenching his fists and smirking, purged Chinese politician Bo Xilai put up a show of defiance as he exited the political stage, wrists in handcuffs, to spend many years behind bars.
The former Chongqing party boss was sentenced to life in prison yesterday after a Chinese court threw out nearly his entire defence and convicted him of all three charges of bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power.
According to transcripts released on its Twitter-like micro- blog, the court in eastern Jinan city also ordered seizure of Bo's personal assets and deprivation of his political rights for life.
"Bo Xilai was a servant of the state, he abused his power, causing huge damage to the country and its people... The circumstances were especially serious," the court said in its judgment.
Bo, 64, was convicted of covering up the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood by his wife Gu Kailai in November 2011, with the illegal sacking of his police chief Wang Lijun. The dismissal sparked Wang's dash in February last year to the US consulate in Chengdu city where he allegedly exposed the murder.
Bo, sacked from his Chongqing post a month later, was also convicted of taking bribes and embezzling 27 million yuan (S$5.5 million) in funds, dating back to his time as mayor of north-eastern Dalian city in the 1990s.
Analysts say the life sentence makes Bo - a former Politburo member - the highest-ranking official to be so severely punished since the Cultural Revolution that ended in the 1970s. Former Beijing mayor Chen Xitong and former Shanghai party boss Chen Liangyu - both former Politburo members - were given 16 years and 18 years in jail for corruption in 1998 and 2008 respectively.
Given Bo's background as the son of a late vice-premier, analysts had predicted a jail term of under 20 years, although he faced the death penalty.
Legal expert Qin Qianhong of Wuhan University believes Bo's strong defence in his five-day trial last month, in which he denied charges vehemently and attacked key witnesses including his wife, earned him the harsher-than-expected sentence. "Political considerations were probably at play too," he said, noting that his fate would have been the outcome of negotiations by top leaders.
University of Nottingham analyst Steve Tsang believes the key consideration for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is to ensure the sentence kills Bo's comeback hopes, which he expressed in a leaked letter last week.
"The only really certain way to do that is to execute him, but party leaders would not allow this to become a precedent since it would have implications potentially for themselves," he added. Thus "the maximum non-death sentence to send a clear signal that Bo is finished politically".
The CCP is also hoping to end the saga and focus on preparations for the Third Plenum in November, where President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang will unveil their policy directions for their 10-year term until 2022.
Bo is reportedly planning to appeal and has 10 days to do so from today. But observers believe he is unlikely to succeed.
Said analyst Li Cheng of the Brookings Institution in Washington: "There is little chance of a comeback for him. There's enough proof showing that Bo has more enemies than friends." Bo Xilai remains defiant as he gets life term He will lose all his personal assets and his political rights for life
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