Bo Xilai charged; trial may start soon

BEIJING - The former communist chief of Chongqing, Bo Xilai, has been formally charged with bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power, paving the way for an end to China's most dramatic political scandal in decades.

Charges against Bo, 64, were filed on Thursday at the Intermediate People's Court in Jinan, the capital of Shandong province, said state news agency Xinhua.

Going by usual legal procedure, his trial is likely to take place next month, say analysts.

Bo is accused of using his official position to seek profits for others, and of accepting "an extremely large amount" of money and properties, Xinhua reported, quoting the indictment paper.

"He also embezzled a huge amount of public money and abused his power, seriously harming the interests of the state and people," it added.

The sums were unstated, but earlier reports said he took 20 million yuan (S$4.1 million) in bribes and embezzled 5 million yuan.

Beijing might use Bo's son Guagua as a bargaining chip, cutting a deal to leave him alone if Bo pleads guilty, say some analysts.

"If they aren't confident of getting Bo to admit guilt, it would be very hard to conduct a trial," said Mr Ho Pin, the founder of Mirror Books, which releases magazines and books on Chinese politics.

The New York-based Mr Ho told The Straits Times that Bo's son should still be in the United States, where he was studying when the scandal broke out.

The indictment marks a sharp reversal for Bo, once a contender for a seat on the elite Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) during last November's power transition.

He fell from power in March last year, after his wife Gu Kailai and Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun were implicated in the death of Briton Neil Heywood.

Gu was found guilty of murdering Heywood and given a suspended death penalty last August. A month later, Wang got 15 years' jail for defection, abuse of power and taking bribes.

Their trials took place within two weeks of their indictments; Bo's hearing could follow a similar timeline.

"You can be sure that the trial won't be fair, credible or professional," said Mr Ho. Still, he added, Bo cannot complain as he is a major factor behind the deterioration in the rule of law in China.

With Wang's help, Bo had cracked down hard on crime bosses in Chongqing, sometimes interrogating them without due process of law, say critics.

His trial is unlikely to be open for media coverage as he might attack his foes, noted National University of Singapore analyst Bo Zhiyue.

"They are concerned he might say, for instance, 'I'm not alone. If you investigate PSC members, you'll find someone who's done something similar or worse'," said Dr Bo.

Observers including Mr Ho expect that Bo will be jailed at least 15 years to nullify him as a threat to the current regime.

The son of party elder Bo Yibo, he had championed social equality and fairness, in a throwback to the Maoist era. That put him at odds with leaders like then-premier Wen Jiabao, who wanted to press on with political reform.

Trying Bo is like putting the party on trial, said Mr Ho. "It exposes its internal divisions."




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