Bo admits faults over embezzlement, murder probe

Agence France-Presse
(UPDATED) Bo Xilai's police chief and right-hand man Wang Lijun appeared in court to testify against him, according to Xinhua news

FACING THE COURT. This picture taken on August 22, 2013 and released by the Jinan Intermediate People's Court's Weibo account shows former Chinese political star Bo Xilai (C) standing on trial in the Intermediate People's Court in Jinan, east China's Shandong province. AFP / Jinan Intermediate People's Court

JINAN, China (UPDATED) – Fallen Chinese politician Bo Xilai admitted “some responsibility” Saturday for embezzled public funds and making mistakes in connection with his wife’s murder of British businessman, his first confessions in a dramatic trial.

Bo denies embezzling five million yuan ($800,000) intended for a local government construction project, but said he “should take some responsibility” for the money ending up in his wife Gu Kailai’s bank account and for failing to investigate.

“I feel ashamed. I was too careless, because these are state funds,” he said according to transcripts that the Intermediate People’s Court in Jinan, eastern China, is providing on its account on Sina Weibo, a Twitter equivalent.

The courtroom scenes come after a lurid scandal triggered by the death of British businessman Neil Heywood — for which Bo’s wife Gu was convicted of murder — that rocked the ruling Communist Party.

He also admitted mistakes relating to the investigation into Heywood’s killing, although he denied charges of abuse of power.

A picture showed him staring at Wang Lijun, his police chief and right-hand man in Chongqing, the megacity he headed, as Wang testified in court against him.

Bo admitted slapping Wang and sacking him as police chief after he told him Gu was responsible for Heywood’s murder.

Days later Wang fled to a US consulate to seek asylum, blowing the scandal wide open, and Bo said his errors had “tarnished the reputation of the Party and the country”.

“I failed to handle this incident at a critical point in a calm way and I made a serious misjudgement,” he said. “I feel ashamed for this.

“I never meant to… protect Gu. I didn’t mean to force Wang Lijun away.”

The former policeman said in court Gu told him she had killed Heywood the day before his body was discovered, and that the politician drew blood when he struck him — adding that he believed Bo ousted him to try to save his wife.

Until the admissions Bo’s performance had been defiant, denying charges of bribe-taking and embezzlement totalling 26.8 million yuan ($4.4 million).

The court transcripts are regular but delayed, and no live audio or video is available, nor are any foreign media or independent observers present in the room.

Earlier, Bo launched a scathing attack on a key witness, saying even the most stupid official knew not to discuss bribery where they could be overheard.

Wang Zhenggang, a former planning official in Dalian, where Bo was the mayor in the 1990s, told the court the politician had telephoned Gu in front of him in connection with the five million yuan.

The claim did not make sense, he said. “It is not even what the most stupid corruption offender would do. Corrupt offenders with even the lowest IQ would ask who else in Dalian was aware of the money.”

The scandal erupted in advance of a generational shift of power atop the factionalised Communist Party, and Bo’s feisty performance during his trial has astonished a public unfamiliar with the open airing of top-level intrigue.

The hearings are in stark contrast to previous Chinese political trials in which most defendants have humbly confessed their crimes amid opaque court proceedings.

Revelations of private jet flights, luxury villas and rare animal meats have held Chinese Internet users spellbound, while Bo has showed open disdain for prosecution witnesses, including Gu, whom he derided as “insane”.

He confessed to having had extramarital affairs and said Gu moved to Britain because she was angry with him, the court transcripts showed.

The trial was widely expected to last only two days but will move into a fourth day Sunday, although analysts still believe a guilty verdict and long prison sentence for Bo were agreed beforehand.

Nothing has been said publicly of Bo’s links with other top Communist leaders — even though he was once head of the southwestern megacity of Chongqing and tipped to join the highest echelons of Chinese political power.

State-run media heaped praise on the proceedings, calling them a landmark in the history of Chinese jurisprudence.

“This degree of transparency has not happened before,” the Global Times newspaper, which has close ties to the Communist Party, said in an editorial.

It described the Weibo postings as a “live feed” and said it “served as an important guarantee of a fair trial for Bo in accordance with the law”.

“The live show has addressed various doubts and rumours in and outside China” the paper said. “It demonstrated that the authorities are ready to receive more public scrutiny.”

But most Chinese-language newspapers have only carried the reports by the official Xinhua news agency, which often include only a passing mention of Bo’s defence. –

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