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China charges ex-politician Bo Xilai with corruption, abuse of power

In this March 13, 2012 photo, then Chongqing Communist Party Secretary Bo Xilai attends the closing session of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference held at Beijing's Great Hall of the People (AP Photo)

Disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai was indicted Thursday on charges of corruption, accepting bribes and abuse of power, state media reported, moving China's biggest political scandal in years toward closure.

The indictment paves the way for a trial, about 16 months after Bo dropped from sight in one of China's biggest-ever political scandals.

The Xinhua News Agency said the indictment was handed over Thursday by prosecutors in the eastern city of Jinan to the city's intermediate court. That indicates the trial will take place in the city soon, although the report did not say when.

"The accused Bo Xilai, as a civil servant, took advantage of the privileges of his office to gain benefits for others and illegally received money and items in extremely large amounts," Xinhua quoted the indictment as saying.

It said Bo also "embezzled an extremely large amount of public funds and abused his powers of office, causing heavy losses to the interests of the nation and the people in an extremely serious way."

Calls to the court and prosecutors in Jinan rang busy or went unanswered.

Bo, the former party boss of the southwestern megacity of Chongqing, was expelled from the party in September and accused of massive corruption, illicit sexual affairs and abetting the cover-up of a murder by his wife.

His ouster in the spring of last year and the investigation into his family presented the Communist Party leadership with its ugliest public scandal in nearly two decades. It exposed the bare-knuckled infighting that the secretive leadership prefers to hide and affirmed an already skeptical public's dim view about corrupt dealings in the party.

At the time, Bo had been one of China's most flamboyant and high-profile politicians, and was considered a contender for one of the seven seats on the party's all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee.

The son of a prominent communist elder, Bo had been commerce minister prior to his assignment to Chongqing. The posting was seen by many as an attempt by rivals to shift him from the spotlight, but Bo turned it into a national stage on which to promote his brand through a combination of economic revival projects, a crackdown on organized crime and a controversial campaign to revival Mao-era communist songs and slogans.

The allegations leveled against Bo in September dated back more than a decade and include improper relations with several women -- banned by the party because they are considered an inducement to corruption.

Bo was also accused of helping to conceal that his wife killed a British businessman -- the crime that ultimately triggered his downfall.

Last year, a trusted aide to Bo fled to a U.S. consulate and disclosed the murder, setting off lurid rumors and revelations that held China and its media spellbound for months.

Bo was dismissed as party chief of Chongqing; his wife, Gu Kailai, was given a suspended death sentence after confessing to the murder; and the aide, Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun, received a 15-year prison term for initially covering up the murder and other misdeeds.

Bo's downfall prompted much speculation over whether the party would risk embarrassment by putting one of its most prominent members on public trial. Under the Chinese system, officials are first investigated by the party's disciplinary body through a process that is notoriously secretive and opaque.  

However, top leaders said from the start that Bo would not receive special treatment and an editorial issued Thursday by the official China News Service reinforced the message that no official was above the law.

Bo's indictment "shows the Chinese Communist Party's resolute will and clear stand against corruption," the editorial said.

"It also tells the whole party and the entire society that in a country ruled by law, no matter who you are, no matter how high your ranking is, you will be seriously investigated and severely punished if you violate party discipline and state law."

The charges against Bo carry a wide range of penalties depending on the severity and the willingness of the accused to cooperate with prosecutors. However, the use of the terms "extremely large amounts" and "extremely serious" in the indictment appear to portend a heavy sentence.

While no figures were given for the amount of illicit money Bo is accused of taking, a Communist Party-backed Hong Kong newspaper, the Ta Kung Pao, said Wednesday that Bo was accused of bribery and embezzlement amounting to 25 million yuan ($4 million).