A Chinese court Sunday sentenced former leading politician Bo Xilai to life in prison after a sensational corruption trial that exposed intrigue and lavish lifestyles in the higher levels of the ruling party.
Bo, a member of the Communist Party’s 25-strong elite politburo before his dramatic downfall, was convicted of bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power.
“The court sentences Bo Xilai to life imprisonment for taking bribes, deprives him of his political rights for life and confiscates all his property,” the Jinan Intermediate People’s Court said on its verified page on Sina Weibo, a Chinese equivalent of Twitter.
As a state servant Bo “abused his power (and) caused heavy losses to the interests of the country and the people”, it said, adding the circumstances of the case were “particularly serious”.
Bo was ousted from office last year after a scandal which saw his wife convicted of the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood.
The court sentenced Bo to life after finding him guilty of taking 20.4 million yuan ($3.3 million) in bribes.
It also sentenced him to 15 years in prison for embezzlement and seven for abuse of power.
The life sentence was more severe than many analysts had expected.
Bo’s trial last month revealed a lifestyle 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.
In the proceedings, Bo described a love triangle between his wife and his top aide, while the court said he had acted to suppress an investigation into his wife’s murder of the British businessman who had helped Bo manage property abroad.
Bo had also championed a leftist revival during his tenure as party chief of the southwestern mega-city of Chongqing, sending thousands of officials to the countryside to get closer to ordinary people, and holding mass concerts of “red songs” praising former leader Mao Zedong.
A photo posted by the court showed a handcuffed Bo, 64, dressed in an open-collar white shirt, black trousers and black athletic shoes, in the court surrounded by four uniformed police officers.
State TV later showed footage of Bo listening to the proceedings as two officers held him in place.
At a press conference after the verdict, court spokesman Liu Yanjie said Bo did not indicate in court whether he would appeal. His lawyers could not immediately be reached for comment.
The catalyst for Bo’s fall came when his top aide — Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun — fled in February 2012 to the US consulate with evidence that the politician’s wife had murdered the Briton the previous November.
With factions in the upper echelons of the Communist Party reportedly split over how to handle him, a year and a half passed before he went to trial, becoming the most high-profile official to do so in decades.
In last month’s gripping five-day hearing he mounted a fierce and defiant defence against claims that he corruptly obtained money and abused his political position to cover up the murder.
Joseph Cheng, a China politics expert at City University of Hong Kong, said Bo’s active defence helped earn him a harsh sentence.
“A defiant attitude and refusing to admit one’s guilt is considered bad behaviour and attracts a heavier sentence,” Cheng told AFP.
“Bo Xilai would certainly like to retain a chance of a political comeback, and a heavier sentence from the state certainly indicates a rejection of any chance of giving him a political comeback.”
“This deprivation of political rights for life is an implicit answer to that kind of demand.”
Bo poured billions into public works and social housing programmes while party chief of Chongqing, where he launched a high-profile anti-crime campaign that won him admirers across China.
Despite his popularity, reports of forced confessions and torture during the crime crackdown horrified Chinese liberals, while some top party leaders saw his ambition as challenging the party’s cherished unity.
The party’s new leadership under President Xi Jinping is trying to show it is combatting corruption.
But locals in Jinan in advance of the verdict expressed a widely held belief that trials of top officials are the outcome of political infighting, rather than purely legal proceedings.
“Bo is the kind of leader ordinary Chinese respect, he did a good job in Chongqing,” said Lu Mingcai, a 63-year-old retired chauffeur.
“His mistake is a political one. It’s got nothing to do with whether he was corrupt or not,” Lu said, adding: “Bo will go to prison for sure.”
Liu Qing, a middle-aged market stall owner said: “(Bo) has been sacrificed in a political struggle. I don’t know if he was corrupt. What government official isn’t corrupt these days?”
Dozens of police, some uniformed and others in plain clothes, surrounded the court in the eastern city of Jinan.
Though edited transcripts from the trial were posted online, the government has tightly controlled information about Bo’s case.
Sunday’s verdict drew often cynical responses on Chinese social media.
Bo’s trial “perhaps is not the victory of anti-corruption”, a user wrote in English on Sina Weibo, calling it “further evidence” of rampant corruption, including in the judicial system.
“Many questions arise: If he’s corrupted, how many corrupted officers are there in China?”
Despite the life sentence, Bo might not spend all his remaining days in prison. In the past, senior Chinese politicians given prison terms have reportedly been released on medical parole and held under strict security at their family homes.