Bo saga draws to close as China court upholds life term

Agence France-Presse

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A Chinese court rejects Bo Xilai's appeal against his conviction

REJECTION. This photo taken on March 14, 2012, shows Bo Xilai during the closing ceremony of the National People's Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. AFP Photo/Mark Ralston

JINAN, China – A Chinese court rejected fallen politician Bo Xilai’s appeal against his corruption conviction and confirmed his life sentence Friday, October 25, as authorities looked to draw a line under a damaging scandal.

Until 2012 Bo headed the southwestern megacity of Chongqing and was one of the highest-ranked politicians in the ruling Communist party, but was engulfed by a lurid controversy that saw his wife convicted of murdering a British businessman.

He was condemned to life imprisonment on charges of bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power last month.

Analysts said that Friday’s decision meant there was no comeback for a man once tipped for the very top echelons of Chinese power.

“The facts of the first instance verdict are clear, the evidence is reliable, sufficient, and the sentence is appropriate,” the Shandong province high court said in its ruling, which it released to the media and posted on its website.

“The court rules as follows: reject the appeal, uphold the original verdict. This verdict is the final ruling.”

In court on Friday, Bo displayed the defiance he previously showed at his trial in August, complaining loudly as the verdict was read out, a witness to the proceedings told Agence France-Presse (AFP).

Bo “interrupted the judge many times to say that the charges were not accurate and the court was abusing its power,” said the witness, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity surrounding the trial.

Bo presented over 10 grounds for appeal, the court said, including that his confessions in custody were “produced under pressure from officials handling the case, and as illegal evidence should be disregarded”.

State broadcaster CCTV showed Bo handcuffed in court, wearing a black jacket and smiling as he was flanked by two towering policemen in white gloves.

At the end of the hearing, which lasted less than an hour, they frogmarched the 64-year-old out of the courtroom, each gripping an arm and a shoulder.

His elder son Li Wangzhi was present, along with other relatives, the images showed. Security was heavy around the courthouse.

The courts – which are tightly controlled by the ruling party – have no further obligation to reconsider his case after the appeal, lawyers said, and Bo is unlikely to appear in public again.

The appeal was considered in a “closed hearing” earlier this month without Bo present, a lawyer with direct knowledge of the case told AFP, adding that Friday’s announcement “will be the final verdict. After that, the process is over”.

According to Chinese law, Bo will not be able to lodge any further formal appeals, and while he can submit a “petition” to China’s supreme court, it is not required to take further action.

Bo’s spectacular downfall exposed infighting within the Communist Party ahead of a once-in-a-decade transition of power. Analysts have said the verdict against him was decided as a result of backroom bargaining within the party elite – some of whom are still thought to be allies of his.

“This was a political case, the life sentence verdict was decided by an agreement among the leadership, and not by the court,” Willy Lam, a prominent China watcher at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, told AFP.

Chinese President Xi Jinping “used this very heavy sentence to serve a warning not to challenge the leadership”, he said.

Bo still enjoyed some support among high-ranking members of the Communist party, said Zhang Ming, a professor at Renmin University in Beijing, but, he added: “His supporters will express their views quietly and not in public.

“The verdict was entirely expected… it brings the matter to a close.”

Bo, whose father was one of Communist China’s “Eight Immortals”, its most prominent revolutionary leaders, was ousted last year after a lurid scandal that saw his wife convicted of the murder of a British businessman.

Bo’s five-day trial revealed a lifestyle far in excess of what Communist Party officials on modest salaries should be able to afford, with evidence of bribes from rich businessmen, including a close associate who bought his family a villa in France.

His defiance over the course of the hearings astonished a public unfamiliar with the open airing of top-level intrigue, and was in stark contrast to previous Chinese political trials, in which most defendants have humbly confessed their crimes in opaque court proceedings.

Bo’s populist policies in Chongqing won him supporters across China, but his openly ambitious approach also alienated other top party leaders, who saw it as harking back to a bygone era of strongman rule.

The court said Bo had been held in Beijing’s Qincheng prison – where he is expected to continue his sentence in comfortable surroundings. Other senior officials held at the jail have later been released on medical parole. –

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