BEIJING — Disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai goes on trial Thursday on corruption charges in a case crafted to minimize damage to the Communist Party and avoid exposure of party infighting or human rights abuses.
Sunday’s announcement of a trial date for the former rising political star puts China’s new leaders on track to wrap up a festering scandal as they try to cement their authority.
The former party secretary of the major city of Chongqing fell from power last year in China’s messiest scandal in decades. It exposed the murder of a British businessman by Bo’s wife and a thwarted defection bid by his former police chief.
Bo will stand trial in the Intermediate People’s Court of the eastern city of Jinan on charges of taking bribes, embezzlement and abuse of power, said a one-sentence announcement on the court’s microblog account. The announcement was also carried by the official Xinhua News Agency.
Bo’s downfall followed a failed defection attempt by his police chief at a U.S. consulate, which embarrassed Chinese leaders. The chief exposed a litany of complaints against Bo that gave political rivals ammunition to attack him.
Bo, the son of a revolutionary leader, was a member of the party’s 25-member Politburo. But he alienated other party leaders by aggressively promoting his personal image and launched campaigns in Chongqing that invoked the radical era of the 1960s and ‘70s.
The charges against Bo appeared to be crafted to make him look like a rogue leader brought down by hubris and immorality. That would allow Chinese authorities to avoid questions about how the party’s unchecked power enabled Bo’s misconduct.
The court could avoid allegations of wiretapping conducted by his former top aide and the use of torture in an anti-crime crackdown. Judges could avoid asking about asset seizures from Chongqing entrepreneurs.
“These charges were tailor-made for Bo Xilai in view of the sentence that they want him to get,” said Zhang Lifan, a historian and political analyst in Beijing.
“They decided how long they wanted to have Bo Xilai locked up for, and then according to that sentence, they made the appropriate charges,” Zhang said. “But these charges have left out a lot of things that he is responsible for.”
Bo’s case was the last major unfinished business from the once-a-decade handover of power that began last November. Holding his trial now means the new leadership can wrap up the scandal before they head into a party meeting later this year that is meant to produce a blueprint for China’s economic development.
The outcomes of criminal cases against senior figures such as Bo are usually decided in advance in secret negotiations aimed at securing the defendant’s cooperation. Bo is only the third politician at Politburo level to be tried on graft charges in recent decades.
“When the indictment was finally announced, it meant that some sort of agreement was reached between the Politburo’s Central Committee and Bo Xilai,” said Zhang Sizhi, an eminent lawyer who has represented many defendants in high-profile political cases.
Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, received a suspended death sentence last year after confessing to poisoning a British businessman, Neil Heywood. Such sentences usually are converted to long prison terms if a convict is deemed to have repented.