The salacious trial of China's fallen political star, former Chongqing Party Secretary Bo Xilai, has ended after five days of court proceedings. The trial began late last week and continued through the weekend with the closing statements from Bo and the prosecution. With the trial finished, the focus has now shifted to Bo’s sentencing.
Though the sentencing won’t be released until an undefined “later date,” the court said, speculation by legal experts and China watchers has already begun floating around. During the trial, 64-year old Bo retracted a confession he made earlier in the case, claiming he was coerced into making the statement, and instead denied the charges of bribery and abuse of power. He pinned instead most of the crimes on Wang Lijun, his right hand man and the megacity’s police chief at the time, as well as on his own wife, Gu Kailai.
Bo also denied claims of knowledge of exorbitant personal spending for his family. Though prosecutors detailed many big-ticket items, including a private jet flying his 25 year old son, Bo Guagua, on a tour of Africa, Bo dismissed accusations that he knew about the spending, saying “I’m not an accountant handling flight reimbursements.”
In general, legal analysts in China are certain a guilty verdict will be delivered. Most even suggest that the Communist Party–run trial was a scripted procedure and merely a formality for Bo’s sentencing. Ahead of the trial, Bo faced a potential suspended death sentence, the sentence which his wife, Gu Kailai is currently serving for the murder of British citizen Neil Heywood, which ultimately means life imprisonment, a sentence often given to high-profile politicians.
A relevant point of reference would likely be the last court case in China that received this kind of attention: the trial in 1981 of the ‘Gang of Four;’ four ousted Communist leaders accused of treason and spearheading anti-Party sentiments. Two of the members, Jiang Qing and Zhang Chunqiao, were given commuted death sentences, while the remaining two, Wang Hongwen and Yao Wenyuan, were given a life sentence and twenty years in prison, respectively.
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Prosecutors said “the defendant’s crimes are extremely grave, and he also refuses to admit guilt,” the official transcripts of the courtroom read. “As such, the circumstances do not call for a lenient punishment but a severe one, in accordance with the law.”
Now, after what many believed to be an unexpectedly candid trial, people are having a difficult time predicting what the sentencing will be. “Before the trial, I expected a 15 to 20-year sentence, but it’s now harder to predict after such an open trial for a case with such a heavy political tone,” He Weifang, a Peking University legal expert, said in a USA Today report. “The trial has been controlled but has been quite just in its procedures, which has surprised many.”
Though no date has been designated for the verdict, many are expecting an announcement in early September.