JINAN, China – Disgraced populist politician Bo Xilai went on trial today, accused of abuse of power and netting more than $4 million in bribery and embezzlement, marking the ruling Communist Party’s attempts to put to rest one of China’s most lurid political scandals in decades.
Bo entered the courthouse under police escort in the eastern city of Jinan, the court said, in closely choreographed proceedings held under extremely tight security, with police sealing off nearby roads with red and yellow traffic barriers.
Once the powerful party boss in the megacity of Chongqing, the charismatic Bo became the most senior leader to fall from power in years after revelations emerged early last year that his wife had killed a British businessman.
Bo’s removal marked China’s biggest upheaval in leadership since the violent suppression of the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests in 1989. Bo’s revival of the symbolism of Mao Zedong’s radical era had unnerved China’s previous leadership, although current leader Xi Jinping, installed last fall, has appeared keen to adopt his own brand of Mao-like tactics.
The scandal was triggered last year when Bo’s police chief, a top aide, fled to a U.S. consulate in a neighboring city, an event that embarrassed the party’s leadership ahead of a key political transition. It would later emerge that the police chief had evidence of the Briton’s murder in late 2011, making the Bo family an international diplomatic liability for the leadership.
A guilty verdict is all but assured because the outcome of such trials involving high-profile politicians in China are usually decided in backroom negotiations by politicians and handed down by the court. Bo’s downfall also has been widely perceived as the result of his defeat in party infighting ahead of China’s once-a-decade leadership transition last fall.