|Bo in handcuffs outside the court on Sunday. (AFP)
Beijing, Sept. 22: Bo Xilai, the pugnacious Chinese politician whose downfall shook the Communist Party, was sentenced to life in prison today after a court found him guilty of bribetaking, embezzlement and abuse of power in a failed attempt to stifle murder allegations against his wife.
The sentence means Bo, the son of a Communist revolutionary leader, is unlikely to ever return to public life, unless there is an extraordinary reversal in his political fortunes.
Given the Communist Party’s tight control of the judiciary, there was never much doubt that the Jinan intermediate people’s court in eastern China would find Bo guilty..
Yet until the end, Bo remained defiant, pleading not guilty and contesting nearly every aspect of the prosecutors’ case during his trial in August. Family associates have said Bo would most likely appeal his sentence.
Party leaders under President Xi Jinping had hoped that prosecuting Bo, once an ambitious member of the elite Politburo, would demonstrate the party’s determination to tame the rampant official corruption that has stoked public ire, posing a potential threat to their hold on power. The government orchestrated an unusually public and lengthy trial for Bo lasting five days, and a court microblog gave the public selective but plentiful and salacious details of the proceedings, which included allegations of adultery by both Bo and his wife Gu Kailai.
But the courtroom drama also let the public peer into a privileged world of dizzying wealth and nonchalant excess. Prosecutors described a casual rapport between Bo’s family and a businessman, Xu Ming, who paid for the travel and the extravagant purchases of Bo’s wife and younger son.
The court gave Bo a small victory. Although it found him culpable for taking bribes worth $3.2 million, it said there was insufficient evidence concerning the air travel, which it said was worth about $218,000.
In a recent letter that he wrote to his family from jail and that has been circulating among his close associates, Bo asserted his innocence and maintained his trademark defiance, declaring that his name would one day be cleared.
Like the trial, the hearing during which Bo was sentenced was closed to foreign journalists, and there was no video feed of the proceedings.
A more complete version of what Bo said during his trial revealed the lengths to which the government sought to stage-manage the narrative, especially comments he made that could raise questions about the government’s tactics or damage the party’s public standing. According to testimony from the court proceedings obtained by The New York Times, Bo said interrogators threatened his family during hundreds of hours of interrogations that caused him to faint more than dozen times.