China on Friday announced that it had stripped disgraced politician Bo Xilai of his final immunity against criminal prosecution, expelling him from the rubberstamp National People’s Congress and setting him up for almost certain trial and conviction.
With less than two weeks to go until a Chinese Communist Party congress that will usher in a once-a-decade transition of national leadership, the news was final confirmation that senior officials in China have closed the book on Bo. Until his downfall this year, Bo, the son of a legendary party figure, was seen as a strong contender for a slot on the nation’s all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee.
Bo had already been stripped of his job as the party boss of the southwestern city of Chongqing, his seat on the nation’s Politburo and, at the end of September, his membership in the Communist Party. The news on Friday had been expected and was more procedural than dramatic – Bo’s lingering spot in the National People’s Congress, known as the NPC, gave him immunity from prosecution, a last box to be checked along the way to a trial.
All that is left now is for a date to be set and the punishment determined. In China, such trials are closely choreographed political affairs that leave no room for anything but a guilty verdict.
In a brief item on Friday, the state Xinhua newswire said simply that, “according to the law on deputies to NPC and to local people’s congresses, his post was terminated.”
When Bo’s departure from the Communist Party was announced a month ago, Xinhua said his case was being handed over to judicial authorities and relayed a blistering report by the Politburo.
“He took advantage of his office to seek profits for others and received huge bribes personally and through his family,” Xinhua said on Sept. 28, reporting the Politburo’s findings. “His position was also abused by his wife … to seek profits for others and the Bo family accepted a huge amount of money and property from others.”
It also noted that Bo was accused of maintaining “improper sexual relationships with a number of women.”
Officials, though, will face a tricky task in making the public argument that Bo’s wrongdoing was specific to him only while avoiding discussion of rampant official corruption that’s widely seen as plaguing the Communist party.
Bo had ruffled feathers in Beijing with his brash ambition and populist approach in Chongqing. He launched a ruthless crackdown on corruption – which critics say included settling personal scores – and a revival of public displays of Mao Zedong-era songs and culture in the sprawling metropolis. Those initiatives tapped into deep resentments about the gap in wealth and privilege in today’s China and made him popular in Chongqing and among leftist politicians. But it unnerved many of China’s current leaders who still harbor bitter memories of the chaos caused by Mao’s Cultural Revolution.
Bo’s implosion began in February after his former Chongqing police chief fled to a U.S. consulate and reportedly relayed the news that Bo’s wife was a leading suspect in the murder of a British businessman. Bo’s wife was found guilty in August of killing the Briton, who died last November in a Chongqing hotel room, and received a death sentence likely to be converted to a lengthy prison term.
The police chief, Wang Lijun, received a relatively light sentence of 15 years the next month after being found guilty on charges of defection, abuse of power and taking bribes – a turn that suggested, along with court language used at the time, that he’d helped prosecutors with their case against Bo.