High-profile Chinese politician Bo Xilai has denied taking $3.5m in bribes from businessmen, the first of the allegations made against him by the government as he went on trial for bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power.
Once proceedings got under way on Thursday, Bo said he was pressured into making a confession. He said he had "once admitted against [his] will" while being investigated by authorities, and called testimony made by his wife that implicates him "laughable."
"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."
Prosecutors ended months of suspense about the details of his charges, rolling out accusations that featured a villa in France, a hot-air balloon project and a football club.
His trial will last for two days and the verdict is likely to be in early September. Court spokesman Liu Yanjie said Bo was "emotionally stable and physically healthy" during the trial.
The politician became the most senior leader to fall from power in years after revelations emerged that his wife had killed a British businessman, Neil Heywood.
The scandal was triggered last year when Bo's police chief, a top aide, fled to a US consulate in a neighbouring city last year, 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 Heywood's murder, making the Bo family an international diplomatic liability for the leadership.
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.
"While the government tries its best to pin him down ... there are actually lots of people who still think highly of some of the public political initiatives that he launched in Chongqing city.
"Bo Xilai is a highly controversial figure, and while the government tries its best to pin him down on corruption [charges], taking bribery and abuse of power, there are actually lots of people who still think highly of some of the public political initiatives that he launched in Chongqing city," Victor Gao, the director of the China National Association of International Studies, told Al Jazeera's Inside Story.
Prosecutors said Bo used his wife, Gu Kailai, and his son, Bo Guagua, as intermediaries in accepting $3.5m in the northeast city of Dalian, where Bo Xilai once held key posts.
They also alleged that Bo instructed an underling to keep quiet an $800,000 payment to the city, and that Bo diverted the money into personal funds with the help of his wife.
And they accused Bo of helping 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.
The abuse of power allegation is related to his alleged attempts to block an investigation into the murder by his wife in late 2011 and his sacking of his police chief, reports say.
Outside the courthouse, meanwhile, a small group of protesters held a demonstration to denounce what they called the politically motivated persecution of Bo.
In a statement to Al Jazeera, Bo's son, Bo Guagua, termed his parents' detentions "clandestine", and said that hoped that his father "is granted the opportunity to answer his critics and defend himself without constraints of any kind".
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies