$5.6m is just tip of Bo Xilai corruption iceberg

LUXURY: (Above) A villa in southern France, given to Bo from Xu Ming, chairman of private conglomerate Shide Group.

SINGAPORE - The family's safes held more cash than an average Chinese might see in a lifetime.

Their French villa was held through shell companies designed to avoid taxes and publicity. The son gallivanted around the world at huge expense.

The sensational corruption trial of Bo Xilai exposed the lavish lifestyle of one of China's most powerful politicians and it has gripped the Communist-run country where there is growing public discontent with inequality, reported AFP.

The bribery and embezzlement charges against Bo, who was, until last year, the head of the megacity of Chongqing and one of China's top 25 leaders, amount to 26.8 million yuan (S$5.6 million).

And that amount is from only a few of his business dealings in the early part of the 64-year-old's career.

Bo defended himself against allegations from his wife Gu Kailai that she had once seen US$80,000 (S$103,000) in bribe money.

"In the shared safe, there were hundreds of thousands of yuan, so how could she know the money she took out was from me?" he said, according to court accounts.

Bo was charged with bribery amounting to 21.8 million yuan, embezzlement of 5 million yuan and abuse of power - all of which he vehemently denied during the recent five-day trial.

He is accused of accepting 20.7 million yuan in bribes from businessman Xu Ming, who testified for the prosecution.

The court heard that Xu paid for a US$3.2 million villa in the French Riviera resort of Cannes after Gu said she wanted to buy it.

The six-bedroom mansion with a pool, shaded terrace and colonnaded balconies sits in an exclusive neighbourhood overlooking the Mediterranean.

It was allegedly funded by Xu through three different companies and managed by others, so that neither Bo nor his family appeared on records as owners of the property, AFP reported.

Tang Xiaolin, another businessman, allegedly gave Bo 1.1 million yuan, including the US$80,000 allegedly seen by Gu. This was done after he profited from a land deal that the politician helped facilitate.

Gu grabbed thick wads of yuan and US dollars from safes in the couple's homes during three trips back to China a year from England, where she lived with their only son, Bo Guagua.

Both bribery accusations stemmed from Bo's years overseeing Dalian city and its north-eastern province Liaoning in the 1990s and early 2000s.

He became national commerce minister in 2004 and Chongqing's leader in 2007.

Bo's son attended top-notch schools and universities with hefty tuition fees, including Harrow in Britain, Oxford, Harvard and, from this autumn, Columbia law school in New York, AFP reported.

Overseas trips

Xu paid for his son, Guagua, to travel to Germany for the 2006 World Cup, as well as Italy, Latin America and Africa, and for toys such as an 80,000 yuan Segway scooter.

Guagua charged US$50,000 to his credit card, paid off by Xu, for a month's worth of exotic meat from Africa.

In 2011, he treated 40 Harvard classmates to an expenses-paid trip to China.

Yet, some Chinese would be surprised if a politician of Bo's stature had not obtained even more wealth, said Steve Tsang, a China politics expert at the University of Nottingham in Britain.

He said: "I think for a lot of people, the question would be, could this be it? Surely someone in Bo's position could and would have enjoyed much more than what was revealed in court."

Many Chinese have come to expect ill-gotten riches of their leaders, and Bo's supporters may be willing to overlook his actions, David Goodman, of the University of Sydney, told AFP.

"Given that they're all at it, why shouldn't you support people you think have views that you think are acceptable?" he said.

"They don't make a complicated calculus about, well, he's corrupt, but he's for us - but that's what it comes down to."

Official corruption is rampant in China, as the leadership has acknowledged this year while vowing to crack down on it.

Multiple examples of excess have been revealed over recent months, even among low-level civil servants.

But far greater wealth at the highest levels was exposed by Western media last year - and proved so sensitive that the outlets' websites have since remained blocked inside China.

Meanwhile, Wang Lijun, the former Chongqing police chief who blew the whistle on Bo, is believed to be suffering from a mysterious paralysing illness while in jail, reported Boxun, an overseas Chinese website.

Wang, 53, is serving a 15-year prison sentence for graft and his attempted defection to the US consulate last February.

He is believed to be paralysed from the waist down after suffering a mysterious illness which doctors could not diagnose, said Boxun.

He is in such a weak condition that he attended Bo's trial as a key witness in a wheelchair.

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China's Bo Xilai goes on trial