Purged party chief Bo Xilai to stand trial
IN A shocking development in China’s worst political scandal in decades, purged Chinese Communist Party leader Bo Xilai has been expelled from the ranks and faces serious criminal charges of corruption and sleaze that extend to the early days of his career.
Speculation had been rife for weeks as to how the party would resolve the crisis, which comes just ahead of a brutally tense, once in a decade leadership transition.
When the statement unexpectedly appeared on the Xinhua news agency yesterday evening, it was concise and devastating.
“Bo Xilai abused his powers of office, committed serious errors and bears a major responsibility,” it said.
These “grave violations of party discipline” go all the way back from the early days of Mr Bo’s rise from a cadre in Dalian and Liaoning provinces, as minister of commerce, and in the southwestern city of Chongqing, where Mr Bo was party chief.
He also “had affairs and maintained improper sexual relationships with a number of women”.
A direct link is being made between Mr Bo and other elements in the scandal. Mr Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, and his former police chief and protege Wang Lijun have both been jailed over the scandal that followed the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood in Chongqing.
He has not been seen in public since the scandal flared and was said to be under investigation. Now he has been expelled from the party and the elite decision-making politburo and central committee “in view of his errors and culpability in the Wang Lijun incident and the intentional homicide case involving Bogu Kailai”.
“Bo Xilai’s behaviour brought major consequences, seriously undermined the reputation of the party and the country, creating a very negative impact at home and abroad and significantly damaging the cause of the party and people.”
The statement urged “party organisations at all levels” to take heed of the “negative example” of the Bo Xilai case.
The Communist Party is cleaning house ahead of the congress where President Hu Jintao will step down as general secretary – the party’s top post. He is due to resign from the presidency at a parliamentary meeting next March, ending his 10-year tenure as China’s leader, and hand over the reins to Xi Jinping.
The congress will now officially start on November 8th. Having the event begin on the eighth will be seen as an auspicious sign.
“The earlier . . . wisdom was that he would be treated lightly. It looks like now he will face very serious corruption charges and serve 18 to 20 years in jail,” said Prof Willy Wo-Lap Lam, of Hong Kong’s Chinese University.
There has been feverish faction fighting going on ahead of the congress to see who will sit on the all-powerful standing committee. Moreover, there is speculation that having Mr Bo brought to trial represents a major victory for Mr Hu and Premier Wen Jiabao against Mr Bo’s powerful supporters.
A criminal case will take time to prepare, even if the guilty outcome is a foregone conclusion, and so it will most likely take place after the congress.
“There will be criminal procedures to build up a case. But we know the answer already,” said Mr Lam. “Bo Xilai will have ceased to be a distraction by then so the party has succeeded in presenting a facade of unity for the consumption of the Chinese public,” he added.