HONG KONG — With one of China’s most divisive politicians, Bo Xilai, banished to life in prison Sunday, the Communist Party stepped up its efforts to convince a scandal-weary public that the spectacle of his trial proved that national leaders were serious about rooting out official corruption.
A court in eastern China declared him guilty of accepting bribes, embezzling state funds and abusing his power in a failed attempt to thwart a murder investigation involving his wife.
Bo Xilai has told the court that he will appeal, The Wall Street Journal reported on its Chinese website Monday, but the Communist Party controls China’s judiciary, and the chances are scant that any judge would overturn the verdict or reduce his sentence of life in prison.
Instead, Bo is likely to disappear from public life for decades, at least, ending a career in which he defied the staid ways of Chinese politics and reinvented himself as a populist defender of socialist virtues.
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China’s state-run news media portrayed the judgment as proof that the party leadership under Xi Jinping is determined to end the bribe-taking, graft and brazen self-enrichment that have fed widespread public disenchantment with officials.
“The resolute legal punishment of Bo Xilai fully demonstrates that there are no exceptions before party discipline and state law,” said a commentary scheduled to appear Monday in the party’s main newspaper, People’s Daily.
Xi, who was appointed party leader in November, has frequently vowed to strike down “flies” and “tigers”: both low- and high-ranking officials caught in corruption.
Bo’s trial and conviction gave the public an unusually unsparing view into the cronyism and extravagance that many Chinese citizens assume are endemic in the party elite.
Bo’s father, Bo Yibo, was purged and imprisoned more than once during the topsy-turvy days of Mao Zedong’s rule in China, only to be rehabilitated and promoted to the position of vice premier later. But these days, political fortunes do not rise and fall on a single leader’s whim, and Bo junior is sure to find a way back harder.
Bo had cast himself as a champion of Mao’s legacy while running the megacity of Chongqing, encouraging the singing of “red songs” lauding the Communist Party’s achievements, waging a campaign against organized crime and building affordable housing for the poor.
Xi realizes that the memory of Communist China’s founding father remains powerful, and he has cast himself as the true successor of Mao’s “man of the people” image.
Xi also understands that the yawning gap between rich and poor is undermining the party’s standing, and he is waging his own campaign against official corruption and lavish displays of wealth.
Bo was a strong supporter of state-owned enterprises, while the president appears to favor economic reforms that may see their power gradually eroded.
The court found that Bo accepted, through his wife, Gu Kailai, and son, Bo Guagua, bribes from Chinese businessmen that totaled about $3.3 million, much of it used to pay for a villa in France. The court said Gu and Bo Guagua habitually turned to a Chinese businessman, Xu Ming, to pay for travel expenses, credit-card bills and novelties like a Segway.
The court found that Bo Xilai’s handling of murder allegations against his wife amounted to an abuse of power. It said Bo’s actions played a major role in prompting his former police chief in Chongqing, Wang Lijun, to seek refuge in a U.S. consulate for nearly 36 hours in February 2012 and then disclose the allegations that Gu was involved in the murder of a British businessman, Neil Heywood, in November 2011.
Gu was convicted of the murder in August 2012 and given a suspended death sentence, meaning that she is likely to spend the rest of her life in prison. Wang was convicted of defection and other crimes in September 2012 and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Even while Bo waited for the verdict from his trial, which was held last month, party investigators expanded a corruption investigation in China’s oil sector, encroaching on Zhou Yongkang, the once seemingly invulnerable head of China’s domestic security apparatus. Managers of China National Petroleum have been named in the inquiry, and Zhou has long-standing ties with the company.
Includes material from The Washington Post.