Bo Xilai

Chinese put on show at mayor's trial

Published: Monday, Aug. 26, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 6A

JINAN, China – In the weeks before Bo Xilai, the fallen Communist Party star, went on trial here on corruption-related charges, senior officials from the powerful party investigation agency told him about two officials who had been tried earlier on somewhat similar charges, Bo said in court.

One, a former vice governor of Anhui province, was sentenced to death and executed in 2004 for taking bribes and stealing $1.6 million. The other, a former railway minister, received a suspended death sentence – essentially life in prison – in July, mainly for taking $10.6 million in bribes, a much larger amount.

The senior officials' point, Bo told the court in a 10-minute speech Friday, according to two people briefed on the proceedings, was that the party could mete out any punishment it chose, and that Bo's fate rested on whether he decided to cooperate during his own trial on charges of bribe taking, embezzlement and abuse of power.

Bo's speech and other instances in which he railed against threats and hardships during his 17 months in captivity have not appeared in the wave of court transcripts released publicly since the trial – China's most closely watched in three decades – began Thursday.

Instead, those transcripts show Bo cross-examining witnesses, ridiculing the testimony of his wife and former colleagues, and seemingly free to play his part as defendant however he chooses.

But, analysts say, despite the fact that the party, in an unexpected show of relative transparency, has let millions of Chinese witness much of Bo's performance through a running court microblog, the trial remains political stagecraft, fashioned around Bo's combative character. The spectacle, they say, is an effort by the party to convince his elite party allies and ordinary supporters that Bo, a populist politician and revolutionary leader's son, had his say in court, and that the long prison term he is expected to get is based on evidence of crimes committed, not political payback.

"The authorities hope to separate the Bo Xilai case from politics," said Chen Jieren, a legal commentator. "They want people to think this was only an anti-corruption struggle, not a political and ideological struggle."

While the multimedia gambit may have won Bo some additional sympathy and exposed cracks in the prosecution, the legal parrying between the defendant and his accusers has also lent considerable credibility to the political theater.

Perhaps most important for the party, what has most captivated ordinary Chinese – thanks to state media coverage – is a mountain of testimony that depicts Bo as the archetypal corrupt official, with a spoiled son and a wife who murdered a British businessman. (She was convicted in August 2012.)

Evidence at Bo's trial has shown his wife, Gu Kailai, and son, Bo Guagua, regularly taking favors from a tycoon friend, Xu Ming, including a $3.2 million villa on the French Riviera; a $131,000 six-person vacation to Africa in 2011 that included use of a private jet; a $12,000 Segway for the son, who also traveled to Paris, Venice, Argentina, Cuba and, for the 2006 World Cup, Germany.

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