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Sunday 25 February 2018

China throws out Bo Xilai appeal against corruption convictions

Fallen Chinese politician Bo Xilai is appealing against his conviction (AP)
Fallen Chinese politician Bo Xilai is appealing against his conviction (AP)

A court has dismissed ousted Chinese politician Bo Xilai's appeal against his conviction and life sentence for corruption and abuse of power in one of the country's most politically-charged trials in decades.

Today's ruling by the Shandong Provincial Higher People's Court came as no surprise, with many political analysts saying such an outcome was pre-determined by Communist Party leaders keen to put Bo away long enough to prevent him from making a comeback.

Bo was found guilty of embezzlement, bribery and abuse of power by a lower court in the same province late last month and sentenced to life in prison. He put up a robust defence during his five-day trial, denying the charges and recanting earlier confessions.

Authorities in the city of Jinan imposed a heavy security presence around the court before the ruling, closing buildings and streets in the area.

The conclusion of Bo's case bolts the door closed on a vexing scandal for the Communist Party leadership that included embarrassing revelations that Bo's wife murdered British businessman Neil Heywood and that his former aide made a failed attempt to defect to the United States.

The ruling enables Chinese president Xi Jinping to further unify party leaders who may have been divided over how Bo's fate should be handled and to steer public focus towards the initiatives of the team he leads.

Topping the agenda are a meeting of party leaders in November to draw up a blueprint for economic development and an anti-corruption effort that has been the hallmark campaign of Xi's leadership so far.

State broadcaster CCTV showed Bo, a former Politburo member and party boss in Chongqing, in court wearing a black jacket over a white shirt, faintly smiling as he stood flanked by two tall uniformed guards, his hands clasped in front of him.

The court said his offences "led to extremely severe social consequences and caused major damage to the interest of the country and the people", according to the ruling on the case posted on the court's website.

"Xi Jinping is anxious to put together at least a semblance of unity among the different factions," said Willy Lam, an expert on Communist Party politics at Chinese University in Hong Kong.

"He wants to shift the attention of the public and the Western media from something negative to something more positive."

The court's ruling concludes the case against Bo, but still unresolved are questions about who should be held responsible for the abuses of his administration in the city of Chongqing - which were conspicuously ignored during Bo's trial.

As party boss, Bo led a crackdown on what he called mafia activities but that critics say was in part an excuse to arrest wealthy private entrepreneurs, torture them into confessing to crimes then jail them after summary trials and seize their assets. Even a prominent lawyer who sought to defend a businessman was put in jail.

"Bo Xilai controlled the police, prosecutors and courts in Chongqing and he cannot avoid responsibility for the wrongful convictions that took place there," said Li Zhuang, the lawyer who had been jailed in the anti-gang crackdown.

"As long as there is no redress, it's difficult to put a full-stop on Bo's case."

Also left out of the public airing of his offences was the extent to which his naked ambition to rise to the apex of Chinese political power precipitated his downfall. Instead, charges were narrowly focused - that he took £2 million in bribes from two business associates, embezzled government funds and abused his power in handling his wife's murder case police chief's defection.

The trial became a stage on which Bo fought to defend the reputation he had long cultivated as a clean, upstanding model official who rode to popularity exploiting public anger with government corruption. He said he could not be held responsible for crimes that his wife and son committed without his knowledge and said he was betrayed by his right-hand man.

The court rejected Bo's defences and sentenced him to life in prison on the bribery charges, 15 years for embezzlement and seven years for abuse of power.

Press Association

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