Bo Xilai seemed to smile as the prosecutor handed down the verdict on Sunday morning: guilty on all counts and sentenced to life in prison.
The former rising star of the Chinese Communist Party was charged last July with bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power. Conviction rate in the People’s Republic of China is virtually 100%.
China has been cracking down on white collar crime, handing out 22 death sentences for corruption this year alone, although the government rarely follows through with the execution of party officials. The sentence, however, was expected to be much lighter. Word on the street averaged around 20 years.
Bo was once considered current prime minister Xi Jinping’s rival. He led a promising career, first as the mayor of the northeastern city of Dalian, as a provincial governor and later on as the Minister of Commerce.
When he placed a bid for the position of vice-premier, he was instead assigned as party chief of the struggling city of Chongqing which he managed to turn into one of China’s fastest growing economic regions while cleaning up crime and corruption. A large part of both Chongqing’s and Dalian’s population still support and admire the fallen politician.
But behind the scenes, Bo Xilai was no stranger to corruption. He received 21.79 million Yuan ($3.56 million) in bribes, including a villa on the French Riviera. When middleman Neil Heywood, a British businessman, threatened to expose them, he was poisoned by Bo’s wife Gu Kailai.
Bo then used his influence to try to cover up the murder. But the truth came out and Gu was given a suspended death sentence last year. She testified against her husband during his trial.
The trial itself was anything but ordinary. Special attention was given to make China’s biggest political scandal as theatrical as possible, as a symbol of the government’s war on corruption.
Stretching out over five days instead of the usual 24 to 48 hours, most interventions were scripted, even Bo’s responses and criticism of the party, most probably.
To silence transparency criticism, the government posted regular updates and photos of the trial on Weibo, the Chinese Twitter equivalent. But only the official version is available, as foreign journalists have been kept outside of the courthouse and comments were blocked on the courthouse’s Weibo page during the verdict.
Bo Xilai has yet to announce whether he will appeal. He has ten days to do so. In the meantime, the fallen star has vowed, from the depths of his prison cell, to honor his father, a revolutionary veteran who cleared his name after serving time.