Disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai has been placed under criminal investigation, state media has said, after he was
expelled from the country’s parliament and stripped of his legal immunity.
The Supreme People’s Procuratorate said late on Friday that it had placed Bo under investigation for unspecified crimes and had imposed coercive measures on him – likely a reference that he was now officially in detention.
“The investigation is under way,” state news agency Xinhua quoted a statement from the prosecutor’s office as saying.
The announcements pave the way for Bo, once a contender for a position on the top leadership in the world’s second largest economy, to face trial, and likely a long jail sentence, over accusations of corruption and abuse of power.
Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, and his former police chief, Wang Lijun, have both been jailed over a scandal that stems from the
murder of British businessman Neil Heywood while Bo was Communist Party chief of the southwestern city of Chongqing.
The government last month accused Bo of corruption and of bending the law to hush up the murder.
Xinhua said the Standing Committee of the 11th National People’s Congress (NPC) removed Bo from his post late last month, but made the announcement only on Friday at a bi-monthly session.
Although the latest move was a formality, following Bo’s expulsion from the Communist Party last month, it does mean he no longer enjoys immunity from prosecution.
The focus will now shift to when Bo will face trial for a litany of alleged crimes, with most commentators suggesting the court case will be after the Communist Party Congress next month at which new leaders will be selected.
The congress, which opens on November 8, will implement a once-in-a-decade transition of power to the next generation of leaders.
As the most powerful official in Chongqing, Bo had been considered a candidate for a seat on the party’s all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee, and his toppling exposed sharp infighting in the party’s uppermost ranks.
Bo’s downfall has been rapid. His wife was convicted of murdering Heywood, and Bo’s former right-hand man was accused of taking bribes, abusing power and trying to defect to the US, among other crimes.
Gu was handed a suspended death sentence, which is commonly commuted to a life sentence in China.
Even before that, Bo had angered many in Beijing with his populist style that defied the party’s centralised system of policy and decision making.
Bo’s initiatives included a sweeping crackdown on organised crime and a campaign to revive Mao-era songs and culture that reminded many of the excesses of the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution.
In expelling him on September 28, the party accused him of offenses reaching back two decades, ranging from taking bribes and abusing his power to having improper relationships with several women.
He has not been seen in public since mid-March and is believed to be under detention at a Beijing prison.
Beijing lawyer Li Xiaolin said on Thursday that Bo’s wife’s family has hired him and Shen Zhigeng to defend Bo, but the two lawyers are not formally accredited by the authorities to represent him yet.
The timing of a trial is unclear, although there would appear not to be enough time to conclude matters before the party congress.
Bo is the first Politburo member to be removed from office in five years.
The scandal raised talk of a political struggle involving Bo supporters intent on derailing succession plans calling for Vice President Xi Jinping to lead the party for the next decade, as well as concerns over corruption among top-tier politicians.