Friday 19 January 2018

Disgraced Chinese political star Bo mounts feisty defence

FALLEN Chinese political star Bo Xilai has launched an unexpectedly spirited defence at his corruption trial, fiercely denying he took more than £2 million in bribes from two businessmen.

Bo's performance yesterday, the first day of the trial, appeared to be a last-ditch effort by the disgraced politician to repair his carefully cultivated reputation as a man of the people.

China's Communist Party mouthpiece blasted Bo's defense in a retort today, saying he had "quibbled strongly, was evasive and almost completely denied" his crimes.

"No matter how Bo performs, how he lies, it is all only a display of strength to hide the weakness inside," the People's Daily said in a commentary.

Bo is accused of corruption and interference in the investigation of his wife's murder of a British businessman.

Prosecutors yesterday ended months of suspense about details of the bribery charges against him, rolling out accusations that featured a villa in France, a hot-air balloon project and a football club.

The trial resumed today, and the second day of proceedings was expected to delve further into the bribery allegations before moving on to charges of embezzlement of government funds and abuse of office.

Bo's verbal sparring yesterday displayed the media-savvy politician's keen sense of how to portray himself well in tough situations.

He thanked the judge for letting him speak, asserted that he was pressured into making a confession and was selectively contrite.

"I'm not a perfect man, and not a strong-willed person, I'm willing to take responsibility for that," Bo said. "But as to the basic facts of whether I am guilty or innocent, I must say my piece."

Once the powerful party boss in the megacity of Chongqing, the charismatic Bo fell into disgrace early last year following revelations his wife had killed British businessman Neil Heywood, and that he had allegedly interfered in the probe.

The opening day of the trial marked the first time he was seen in public in 18 months, since shortly after the scandal emerged.

In photos and state TV footage from the court, Bo was shown standing in the dock wearing a white long-sleeved dress shirt and dark slacks. His hair was gray and cut short, and he later slumped in a chair with little expression on his face.

The trial is widely presumed to have a predetermined outcome: conviction. But in an unusual display of openness for a major political trial in China, court officials released frequent microblog updates on the testimony, suggesting ruling Communist Party officials are confident of minimising damage from a scandal that exposed a murder and machinations among China's elite.

Bo said he had been pressured into falsely confessing to party investigators that he had taken payments from a general manager of a company owned by the Dalian government, although he also said the investigators had treated him well.

"I once admitted this matter against my will," Bo said. "However, at the time, I had absolutely no knowledge of the nature of the matter. My mind was a total blank."

Prosecutors also said Bo helped a Dalian businessman, Xu Ming, in efforts to buy a football club and obtain land for a hot-air balloon project without proper procedures.

They said Xu helped Bo's family finance the purchase of a villa in Nice, France, and that Xu bought a Segway, an electric stand-up scooter, for Bo's son. Bo denied the accusations and said the two were not even friends.

The prosecution said the confession obtained from Bo was valid and defended the testimony provided by Gu and Xu.

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