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China court upholds Bo Xilai's life sentence

Former Chongqing Communist Party leader was convicted in September on charges of corruption and abuse of power.

Last Modified: 25 Oct 2013 09:07
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A Chinese court has dismissed ousted politician Bo Xilai's appeal against his conviction and life sentence for corruption and abuse of power in one of China's most politically charged trials in decades.

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

Bo, 64, who was Communist Party chief of the southwestern metropolis of Chongqing, mounted a fiery defence during his trial, denouncing testimony against him by his wife as the ravings of a mad woman hoping to have her own sentence reduced.

His career was stopped short last year by a murder scandal in which his wife, Gu Kailai, was convicted of poisoning a British businessman, Neil Heywood, who had been a family friend.

Fall from grace

Once a rising star in China's leadership circles who had cultivated a following through his populist, quasi-Maoist policies, Bo was jailed for life in September after a dramatic fall from grace that shook the ruling Communist Party.

Bo's guilty verdict had been unlikely to be overturned as the courts are controlled by the Communist Party, which had pronounced him guilty long ago.

He was charged with taking $3.5m in bribes from two business associates, embezzling government funds and abusing his power by dismissing the police chief in his wife's murder case.

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

He repeatedly said that he was not guilty of any of the charges, although he admitted making some bad decisions and shaming his country by his handling of former Chongqing police chief, Wang Lijun, who first told Bo that Gu had probably murdered Heywood.

Wang, who fled to the US consulate in the nearby city of Chengdu in February last year after confronting Bo with evidence that Gu was involved in the murder, was also jailed last year for covering up the crime.

Friday's 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.

Xi, who took office in March, will ­­­­­have wanted the Bo affair settled because the next few weeks are critical for his government.

At a closed-door party plenum next month, Xi will push for more economic reforms and he needs unstinting support from the party's elite 200-member Central Committee.

"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.''

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