JINAN, China (AP) — A former city official testified Saturday that he helped disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai embezzle 5 million yuan ($800,000) of government funds, the latest allegation in a politically charged trial that’s laid bare tales of greed, machinations and betrayal in one of China’s elite families.
Bo has denied the latest charges, which came a day after he dismissed similar testimony from his wife Gu Kailai, saying she was “crazy” and a convicted killer. He disputed prosecution charges that gifts from businessman to his family — including a French villa and plane tickets to three continents — were bribes or that he even knew about them, and denying he had provided any political favors in exchange for them.
“Bogu Kailai has changed, she’s crazy and she’s always making things up,” Bo told the Jinan Intermediate People’s Court on the second day of the trial, using the name with which authorities have referred to her.
“Under conditions where her mental state is abnormal, the investigators put her under immense pressure to expose me,” Bo said.
The lurid details have a serious political side, with the ruling Communist Party using the trial against Bo, a former Politburo member and party leader of the megacity of Chongqing, to cap a messy political scandal unleashed by suspicions that his wife killed a British businessman.
That scandal led to Bo’s political ouster, cemented by criminal charges of interfering with the murder investigation and netting $4.3 million through corruption. Courts in China are controlled by the Communist Party so a conviction is expected, but Bo has mounted an unexpectedly spirited defense.
That and the court’s release of trial proceedings are in sharp contrast with the August 2012 conviction of Gu in the murder of a British businessman, when she pleaded guilty in daylong proceedings and scant details were released.
Bo’s trial had been expected to be similarly swift, but observers say giving him a chance to defend himself helps lend a veneer of legitimacy to what is widely seen as a political show trial. The trial has focused attention on Bo’s alleged economic and official misdeeds and avoided discussing the threat he posed to China’s leadership in his pursuit of a seat in China’s apex of power ahead of last year’s leadership transition.
“As long as he does not actually challenge the actual authority and legitimacy of the leadership in putting him in the dock on political grounds, it’s not going to change anything,” said Steve Tsang, a China expert at the University of Nottingham. “It just makes the leadership look better that Bo Xilai had a ‘fair’ trial.”
Authorities remain on high alert for any unrest that might be triggered by the trial, closely guarding a security perimeter that expanded several miles around the court Saturday, with main roads and flyovers in the vicinity sealed and many shops and restaurants shut.
Bo’s defense lawyer cross-examined Wang Zhenggang, who in 2000 was an official with a land planning department in Dalian, where Bo was party boss at the time. Wang told the court he helped Bo funnel 5 million yuan in funds for a secret government project through associates of Gu. Bo has denied the charge. Wang is also under investigation, state media said.
Courtroom revelations by the prosecution have laid bare the way that shady ties between powerful officials and businessmen can play out in China. Part of the couple’s influence comes from their pedigree as the children of revolutionary veterans, a status that gives them access to important political and business networks.
Prosecutors depicted Bo as trading favors with Xu Ming, a businessman in the northeastern city of Dalian, where Bo was a top official. Bo, they said, acted as Xu’s political patron, helping the businessman take over a football club and secure land for a hot-air balloon project in return for expensive gifts for the family that included a villa in France.
Gu said Xu gave the family the villa, paid for their international air tickets and bought expensive gifts for them, including a Segway — an electric standup scooter — for her son. All this, she said, was done with Bo’s knowledge.
“Xu Ming is our old and longtime friend,” Gu is seen telling her questioner. “We had a very good impression of him and believed he was honest and kind, so we trusted him a lot.”
In defending himself, Bo has challenged the relevance of evidence presented and stated he was ignorant of any favors his wife and son accepted. He also recanted a confession he gave to investigators that prosecutors presented in court.
“Xu Ming has provided a huge amount of financial assistance for my family, for Gu Kailai and especially for Bo Guagua’s overseas studies. It is essentially a special kind of transaction. That is, I helped him ‘grow faster,’ and he helps me ‘take care of the child,’” the confession read.
Prosecutors also presented documents — receipts, copies of faxes, government approvals — they say prove the businessman helped enrich the Bo family in return for political favors from Bo. They have said their witness testimonies were obtained legally and that Gu, in particular, was not affected by any medication that would impair her self-control.