BEIJING – Deposed Chinese politician Bo Xilai was charged with corruption and abuse of power Thursday, as China's new leadership tries to steer the country's ugliest political scandal in years toward closure.
Bo, 64, was a rising political star who ran the metropolis of Chongqing until he fell from power last year in a scandal that saw his wife convicted of killing a British businessman. On Thursday, the official Xinhua News Agency announced that he was charged with bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power and will stand trial in the eastern city of Jinan.
The indictment paves the way for a trial that could take place in a few weeks, concluding a messy scandal that cast an unwelcome shadow over last year's political transition to a new generation of Communist Party leaders under Xi Jinping.
"Continuing to let the case drag on would only raise questions and suspicions of political discord in the leadership," said Dali Yang, head of the University of Chicago Center in Beijing.
In China, trials of such high-level officials accused of corruption are less about legal process than they are about decisions hammered out by politicians and the party's graft investigators and announced by a court. There is usually little dispute aired during proceedings, and most of it is kept out of the public eye.
News of his prosecution signals that the Communist Party leadership has reached a general agreement about how to handle Bo, who has his supporters inside the party as well as among the Chinese public, despite the scandal.
"This is very important for Xi Jinping because it shows that he's more than first among equals, it shows that he is a person who can unify the disparate factions not only within the gang of princelings but within the party as a whole," said Willy Lam, an expert on party politics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
"We have to remember that there are still many people who support Bo Xilai and his programs. He remains very popular not only in Chongqing, but other parts of China," Lam said.
Bringing the case to a close will also allow the leadership to declare victory over corruption and other abuses of power, Yang said.
"But I do think there are questions that people will continue to ask, such as to what extent he had been a victim of a political struggle," he said.
More than the charges he faces, many feel Bo's real transgression may have been his naked ambition to join the new leadership. His downfall divided party powerbrokers negotiating the new leadership lineup in last year's transition.
Xinhua cited the indictment as saying "Bo took the advantage of his position as a civil servant to seek gains for others, as well as accepted bribes in the form of large amounts of money and property.
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.
Xinhua did not provide further details on the charges but a report by a Beijing-backed Hong Kong newspaper, the Ta Kung Pao, on Wednesday said Bo was accused of bribery and embezzlement amounting to 25 million yuan ($4 million). Analysts who study official corruption say that amount indicates that he might face a prison sentence of around 15 to 20 years.
The scandal began to unfold early last year when a close aide of Bo's fled to a U.S. consulate and disclosed Bo's wife's murder of a British businessman. Bo was ousted in the spring and dropped from public view presumably into the custody of the party's disciplinary organ.
He 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.
The government appears keen to use its handling of the case to bolster Xi's promises that an anti-corruption campaign he's championed will target both low-level and high-level officials equally. An editorial issued Thursday by the official China News Service reinforced the message that no official was above the law.
Bo's indictment "tells the whole party and the entire society that in a country ruled by law," it said. "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."
Associated Press writers Christopher Bodeen and Didi Tang contributed to this report.
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