Bo claims ex-police chief was in love with Gu

Bo Xilai (centre) being led out of the courtroom after his trial on Monday.

CHINA - A sensational trial seen as one of China's most contentious in decades has ended, with prosecutors pressing for a severe sentence for an unrepentant Bo Xilai.

Speaking publicly for possibly the last time, Bo, 64, stuck to his guns right to the end. He denied abusing his power, as well as accepting bribes and embezzling, both amounting to nearly 27 million yuan (S$5.6 million).

After earlier surprises about spats and slaps, he saved the best for last, telling the court how he had burst in on a love confession by his former police chief Wang Lijun to his wife Gu Kailai.

The bombshell capped the five-day trial, considered remarkable for its relative length, unprecedented use of social media to broadcast court exchanges and Bo's feisty self-defence.

Once tipped to become one of China's top-ranked leaders, Bo fell from power after being entangled in his wife's murder of Briton Neil Heywood in late 2011.

He allegedly used his power as Chongqing party boss at the time to stop Wang from investigating the murder and later to remove him as police chief. This led Wang to seek protection at the American consulate in nearby Chengdu city last year.

Bo, who on Sunday admitted slapping Wang, told the court on Monday that it was not his slap that caused Wang to flee.

"The real reason, as Wang confessed himself, was that he was secretly in love with Gu Kailai," he said, according to court transcripts.

Bo said he had seen Wang professing his love for Gu and even slapping himself eight times. This was when Bo walked in on them and seized Wang's love letter.

His wife and the police chief were as close as glue and enjoyed an "extremely special relationship", he said. Wang freely went in and out of Bo's official residence in Chongqing, and once left behind a pair of leather shoes.

But Wang and Gu fell out over the Heywood murder and their relationship became a "farce", said Bo, adding that it was his wife who made Wang flee.

Bo also insisted he had nothing to do with the bribes taken by his wife and son Guagua.

He was "a work machine" and ran himself ragged visiting all 14 poor counties in Chongqing, he told the court. He had no time for minor details like who paid for air tickets for his wife and son.

Calling himself a simple man who did not care much for clothes, he said he still wore the long johns his mother bought for him in the 1960s.

Bo also disavowed a bribery confession he had made before the trial, saying he did it in the hope of "keeping his party membership and his life in politics".

But he conceded having failed as boss and as head of the family.

"I did not keep my family and subordinates in line. I have made a big mistake and let the party and masses down," he said. Going by past political trials, a verdict is not expected until at least next week. A conviction is almost certain.

Bo, perhaps knowing as much, said in closing statements: "I know it's impossible to escape my fate over this. There are times too when I feel weak inside."

hoaili@sph.com.sg

Bo's possible fate

A conviction for former Politburo member Bo Xilai is virtually assured. Harder to predict is the punishment to be meted out to him.

There are three scenarios:

DEATH SENTENCE

This is unlikely as others convicted of more serious offences have escaped capital punishment.

Former Beijing party boss Chen Xitong received a 16-year jail term for corruption in 1998, while Shanghai party boss Chen Liangyu was jailed 18 years for financial fraud, taking bribes and abuse of power in 2008.

Bo's wife Gu Kailai was given a suspended death sentence with a two-year reprieve for murdering British businessman Neil Heywood, as was former railways minister Liu Zhijun, who took bribes totalling 64.6 million yuan (S$13.5 million).

A death sentence could risk upsetting Bo's supporters in the leftist faction and also in Chongqing and Dalian, noted analyst Bo Zhiyue.

SUSPENDED DEATH SENTENCE

If the death penalty is ruled out, the maximum sentence Bo could get is a suspended death sentence with a two-year reprieve - if he is uncooperative. Such a sentence is usually commuted to life imprisonment after two years. But the prisoner faces execution if he commits an offence during this period.

LIFE TERM, OR 15-20 YEARS' JAIL

A life sentence is possible. If Bo is cooperative, he might even get 15 to 20 years' jail. But anything short of a life sentence might be deemed lenient and may expose the Chinese Communist Party to criticism that it is not serious in fighting official corruption.

 

KOR KIAN BENG

Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.