Bo Xilai trial to start soon, say reports

BEIJING - Former Chongqing party boss Bo Xilai will likely be tried soon for bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power, a Hong Kong paper has reported, while wire agency Reuters has quoted a source as saying his trial could even be as early as this week.

Sources "with knowledge of" meetings held to confirm the charges told the South China Morning Post on Tuesday that the case will likely be heard in Jinan, capital of Shandong province.

Bo, 64, faces charges of taking bribes of 20 million yuan (S$4.1 million), embezzling 5 million yuan, and abuse of power, lawyer Li Zhuang, who is familiar with the case, posted on his Sina microblog.

The case is likely to be heard soon as the central authorities want to wrap it up sooner rather than later, said Renmin University political analyst Zhang Ming.

"If not, it will be very troublesome. It's like a bomb," he told The Straits Times. This is because Bo still has many supporters, and they may be encouraged to petition for his release if his case drags on, he added.

Other observers believe Beijing would want the trial to be over before the central party leadership gathers for an important plenum meeting in October.

Bo, a political blue blood, was hailed by some for his crackdown on organised crime but reviled by others for his disregard of the law during his time in Chongqing.

He was seen as a hopeful for the elite Politburo Standing Committee in the run-up to the party leadership transition last November, but fell from power after his wife Gu Kailai and former right- hand man Wang Lijun were implicated in the poisoning of Briton Neil Heywood.

Bo is accused of using his power to cover up the murder, for which Gu was given a suspended death sentence last August.

Wang got 15 years' jail last September on charges including taking bribes and abuse of power.

 

In January, Hong Kong's Ta Kung Pao reported that Bo would be tried in Guiyang, Guizhou province, in south-west China. But this turned out to be untrue.

Observers expect a relatively light sentence for Bo, referring to an unwritten rule that Politburo members should not receive overly harsh legal punishment.

Former Beijing party boss Chen Xitong and former Shanghai party chief Chen Liangyu, both Politburo members, were given jail terms of less than 20 years each for offences like graft.

The amount of money Bo allegedly pocketed is also relatively small, said Prof Zhang. It was less than half of the 64.6 million yuan in bribes taken by former Railway Minister Liu Zhijun, who was handed a suspended death sentence earlier this month.

Beijing-based lawyer Pu Zhiqiang also predicts that Bo will get off relatively lightly. He would receive perhaps 15 to 20 years, or at worst a life sentence, he said.

"The death penalty will be impossible. Neither Gu (Kailai) nor Liu Zhijun got the death sentence though their cases were so serious," he told The Straits Times.

"It's more of a political case," he said of Bo's trial.

hoaili@sph.com.sg

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