BEIJING — A court in China has indicted disgraced politician Bo Xilai on charges of corruption and abuse of power. Bo was swept from office more than a year ago following one of China’s biggest political scandals and vanished from the public limelight.
Chinese state media reports say Bo will face charges of abuse of office, accepting bribes and embezzling of massive amounts of public funds.
Reports did not initially specify the amount of funds embezzled, bribes received or any other details about the charges. Reports say the indictment was sent to eastern Shandong province’s capital of Jinan, where the trial will be held.
Just how soon the trial will begin is unclear. Legal scholar Yang Xuelin says the court has at least two months to bring Bo to trial.
“From the information released, he has been charged with accepting bribes, a particularly large amount of money and also of corruption, of massive funds. For the charge of misuse of power, the circumstances are especially serious. These three charges are very serious and require a long sentence,” Yang said.
Around the time that Bo was kicked out of the party last year, state media reported that his crimes stretch back more than a decade. In addition to corruption, Bo is also alleged to have engaged in illicit sexual affairs attempted to cover up his wife’s murder of a British businessman.
The scandal was one of the Communist Party’s ugliest in decades and comes as public trust in the party is waning over concerns about corruption.
Beijing Residents React
On the streets in Beijing, many welcomed news of the indictment, but were less certain about the impact the case might have.
Liu, a 29 year old from China’s northeastern province of Hebei says he has seen the effort to crackdown on corruption picking up recently at the local level, but more needs to be done.
“Anti-corruption is a big topic for every new batch of leaders in China. But whether efforts to crackdown will have an impact depends on local government’s enforcement. The public has high expectations for this," Liu said.
Grace, a 32 year old who works in the environmental field says there is so much corruption in China that it might be easier to focus on finding officials who are honest.
“I think that no matter whether his case ends well or not, it will have a big psychological impact on us because this case highlights the problems that the party and the people face. No matter how it ends, we will not feel happy about this case,” Grace said.
Yang Lei, is a 30 year-old who works in the finance industry, says Bo should be punished severely, but not sentenced to death.
“I think that he should get a suspended death sentence because this case is related to his political career. I think the case is more than one that is focused on what he personally did, but it is about his political errors. Obviously he took the wrong path, so he should receive some criminal punishment, but he does not deserve to die,” Yang said.
Kerry Brown, executive director of the University of Sydney's China Studies Center, tells VOA it is "very unlikely" that prosecutors will ask for a death sentence against the 64-year-old Bo.
"That's a very very bad precedent for anyone else in this position in the future. So I think a harsh sentence of life (in prison) or even a suspended death, if they really wanted to kind of throw everything at him, is more likely than actually having a death sentence."
Once a Promising Political Career
Bo was once one of China’s most well-known and popular up and coming politicians. He was one of 25 members in the Communist Party’s Politburo, and was widely expected to become one of China’s top leaders.
But just as China was beginning its once-in-a-decade leadership reshuffle, allegations of corruption and murder swirled around his family. He disappeared from public view and was then ousted from his post as party boss of the southern megacity of Chongqing. His wife, Gu Kailai, was given a suspended death sentence following her confession to the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood.
Bo’s former right-hand man, Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun was sentenced to 15-years in prison for initially covering up the murder and other crimes.
The case involving Bo case threatened to unveil deep divisions within the highest ranks of the party. But Kerry Brown says the latest development means Beijing must have come to an agreement on the issue.
"They must have, to have gotten it this far. This would not have been a consensus decision, it's not something that could have been rammed through by one or two people. And it seems throughout this whole story, the leadership unity has been basically maintained," he said.
William Gallo contrbuted to this report from Washington.