BEIJING— A court in China has sentenced fallen political star Bo Xilai to life in prison, finding him guilty of all of the three charges brought against him.
The conclusion of the trial of Bo - one of China’s biggest political scandals in decades - came one online posting at a time. Much like during his trial in August, the Jinnan Intermediate People’s Court announced the verdict in near real time through its Twitter-like social media site, Weibo.
In pictures posted on the court’s Weibo, Bo was seen wearing a white collared shirt, shackled in handcuffs and flanked by security guards. On state television he appeared to almost be smiling as the court read the verdict.
Bo was sentenced to life in prison for bribery, 15 years for the charge of corruption and seven years for abuse of power. The court says it has confiscated more than $3 million in assets from the family, including a villa in the south of France.
The 64-year-old former Chongqing Communist Party boss was also stripped of his political rights and ability to hold office.
Bo has 10 days to appeal the ruling. According to a report in the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post, he is likely to launch an appeal.
The sentencing of Bo is being portrayed as a key accomplishment of China’s new leaders. President Xi Jinping has pledged to tackle official graft and go after officials no matter how high their rank. Critics, however, say the trial is more about ending Bo’s political career.
Zhang Ming, a political scientist at Renmin University, said, “[His opponents] wanted to stop his political career and send the message to Bo's supporters that he is corrupt.”
Bo’s rapid political decline began early last year when his chief of police in Chongqing, Wang Lijun, fled to a nearby U.S. consulate with information about Bo’s wife’s involvement in the murder of a British businessman. At the time, China was in the middle of a once-in-a-decade leadership reshuffle and Bo was poised to rise to a high-ranking post.
Pu Zhiqiang is a Beijing-based rights lawyer. He says that if the small amount of corruption Bo was charged with is the standard for going after officials in China, many others are just as guilty.
“If it hadn’t been for Wang Lijun’s flight to consulate in Chengdu or the intense political struggle that followed in its wake, it’s unlikely that the government would do anything about such a small amount of corruption,” said Pu.
Although Bo has been sentenced to life in prison, he is eligible for parole in a little over a decade, according to Chinese law. Political analysts say that it is likely that he could be released even sooner, much like other victims of political purges in the past.
Pu said, “I find it hard to believe that a 60 something Bo Xilai will spend much time in jail. There will be some other kind of an arrangement made for him, much like Chen Xitong who was released on medical parole.”
Chen Xitong, the former mayor of Beijing was sentenced to 16 years in prison in 1998 during an anti-corruption drive and released on medical parole in 2006.
When most high-ranking Chinese politicians are accused of corruption, they break down in court and admit to their crimes and in return receive lighter sentences. Bo refused to acknowledge his guilt during the trial and launched a defiant defense. And that is one key reason why his sentence was so stiff, political analysts say.
Political scientist Zhang Ming says an appeal is not likely to change Bo’s ruling.
“His verdict is not going to change but the political environment could change," said Zhang. "And if that happens then he might be able to make a comeback.”
Despite the charges against Bo, he is still widely popular in the areas he once served, particularly Chongqing. During his time there he worked to address China’s huge gap between the rich and the poor. His policies there were welcomed by the poor.
He also launched a crackdown on organized crime that was praised by some but tainted by reports of torture and abuse of legal procedure. Those abuses, critics say, were much worse than the crimes he has been tried of in court.