Deposed Chinese politician Bo Xilai was charged with corruption and abuse of power on Thursday, as China’s new leadership tries to steer the country’s ugliest political scandal in years towards closure.
Bo, 64, was a rising political star who ran the metropolis of Chongqing until he fell from power last year in a scandal that saw his wife convicted of killing a British businessman.
On Thursday, China’s state television announced that he was charged with bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power and will stand trial in the eastern city of Jinan.
The indictment paves the way for a trial that could take place in a few weeks, concluding a messy scandal that cast an unwelcome shadow over last year’s political transition to a new generation of Communist Party leaders under Xi Jinping.
Historian and political analyst Zhang Lifan said it is not unusual in China for politicians to get caught up in allegations of corruption.
“In a system where corruption has become the norm, any politician who loses ground in a power struggle could be accused of wrongdoings, and find himself in the midst of corruption charges. So, what is happening now only means that this person did not come out victorious in the power struggle,” said Zhang.
In China, trials of such high-level officials accused of corruption are less about legal process than they are about decisions hammered out by politicians and the party’s graft investigators and announced by a court.
There is usually little dispute aired during proceedings, and most of it is kept out of the public eye.
“Had Bo Xilai not lost the power struggle none of this would be happening to him. So, from this point of view, we can say that his trial is a political one, and not really a legal one,” added Zhang.
News of his prosecution signals that the Communist Party leadership has reached a general agreement about how to handle Bo, who has his supporters inside the party as well as among the Chinese public, despite the scandal.
More than the charges he faces, many feel Bo’s real transgression may have been his naked ambition to join the new leadership.
His downfall divided party powerbrokers negotiating the new leadership line-up in last year’s transition.
The scandal began to unfold early last year when a close aide of Bo’s fled to a US consulate and disclosed Bo’s wife’s murder of a British businessman.
Bo was ousted in the spring and dropped from public view presumably into the custody of the party’s disciplinary organ.
He was expelled from the party in September and accused of massive corruption, illicit sexual affairs and abetting the cover-up of a murder by his wife, Gu Kailai.
The government appears keen to use its handling of the case to bolster Xi’s promises that an anti-corruption campaign he’s championed will target both low-level and high-level officials equally.
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