Aug 23, 2013

    Bo takes the stage with feisty defence

    FALLEN politician Bo Xilai put up a feisty defence yesterday as he faced China's most politicised trial in decades, saying he was framed in one of the bribery charges against him and had admitted to it against his will during interrogation.

    The 64-year-old former Communist Party chief of the south-western city of Chongqing has been charged with illegally taking almost 27 million yuan (S$5.6 million), corruption and abuse of power, and will almost certainly be found guilty.

    His denial of one of the charges and strong language as he made his first public appearance since being ousted early last year were unexpected.

    But observers said he could have struck a deal with the authorities to show he was getting a fair trial, in exchange for a pre-arranged sentence.

    "No one in China believes that Bo is getting a fair trial," said Mr Nicholas Bequelin, senior researcher at New York-based Human Rights Watch.

    "This is not sufficient to enhance the trust that the citizenry has in its judicial system. This is a very carefully crafted piece of political theatre."

    The foreign media were not allowed to attend the trial and Bo's remarks were carried on the court's official microblog, so they are likely to have been heavily edited. Still, the transcripts provided by the court mark a level of openness that is unprecedented for a trial in China.

    Bo was charged with receiving about 21.8 million yuan in bribes from plastics-to-property entrepreneur Xu Ming, who is a close friend and is in custody, and Mr Tang Xiaolin, the general manager of Hong Kong-based export company Dalian International Development, the court said.

    In response, Bo said he had been coerced into making a false confession to party investigators that he had taken payments from Mr Tang.

    Bo said of the businessman: "He's simply trying to get his punishment reduced. That's why he bites around like a mad dog."

    In a separate bribery allegation, prosecutors said Bo helped Dalian businessman Xu in efforts to buy a football club. They said Mr Xu bought Bo's family a villa in France. Bo denied the charges.

    "The entire process is fabricated, I have never admitted to this 20 million yuan from the beginning to the end," he said.

    He received the bribes from Mr Tang through wife Gu Kailai, and son Bo Guagua, the court said, citing the indictment. It was the first time that the authorities had named the younger Bo in the case.

    Written evidence from Gu was provided to the court in which she said she had seen a large amount of cash in safes at two of their residences, money which matched the amount allegedly given to Bo from Mr Tang.

    Bo said that testimony was "laughable".

    His gutsy lambasting of the prosecution's questions has won him admiration from many Chinese following the case online, even if it was part of the plan agreed on between him and the party.

    Lawyer Zhang Sizhi, who defended Mao Zedong's widow, Jiang Qing, during the Gang of Four trial in 1980, said: "(Bo) knows exactly what to say and what not to say. It seems like some sort of understanding was reached ahead of time."

    Bo's trial will last for two days and the verdict is likely to be early next month, state broadcaster CCTV said.

    He could face the death sentence, though a suspended death sentence is more likely, which effectively means life imprisonment, or a 20-year term.

    Dr Zhang Lifan, a Chinese historian and political analyst, said: "(This is) definitely the last performance of Bo Xilai."