By William Kazer, Charles Hutzler, BEIJING (WSJ): A Chinese court set Sunday as the date for pronouncing judgment on former Communist Party star Bo Xilai in a proceeding people close to him said is expected to produce a guilty verdict and lengthy prison sentence.
The Intermediate People’s Court in the eastern Chinese city of Jinan said in a short posting Wednesday on its verified microblogging account that the verdict will be announced Sunday at 10 a.m. The court held a five-day trial for Mr. Bo last month on charges of bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power in an unusually open hearing that captivated politically minded Chinese.
Mr. Bo, who had a reputation for charisma as he rose up the party’s ranks, put up a pugnacious defense during his trial, denying the charges and sparring with the prosecutors and witnesses. The court released partial transcripts in near-real time—a surprising move that some analysts said was an attempt by Chinese leaders to show that Mr. Bo was treated fairly but one that won him sympathy among some members of the public.
In his defense, Mr. Bo largely tried to shift the blame on others and recanted an earlier confession given to investigators as having been extracted under pressure.
Specifically, Mr. Bo said his wife, Gu Kailai, didn’t inform him about the alleged embezzlement of 5 million yuan ($816,833) in state funds and the 20 million yuan allegedly received from business associates and used to pay for trips, a villa in the south of France and other luxuries. He said he made mistakes in removing a top aide and former police chief, Wang Lijun, but didn’t take part in a coverup of Ms. Gu’s murder of a British businessman.
Despite that, people close to the Bo family, party insiders and political analysts said they are expecting a tough prison sentence. One person close to the Bo family said that they expect him to appeal.
An appeal suggests that Chinese authorities have been unable to negotiate a deal with him, as is customary in such politically sensitive cases, according to that person. Chinese authorities often hand down lighter sentences in return for cooperative behavior in court, but Mr. Bo’s defiance suggests that is unlikely in this case, the person said.
The corruption charges Mr. Bo faces carry a penalty of 10 years to life imprisonment, and death if the court considers the conduct egregious, while an abuse-of-power conviction carries a three- to seven-year prison term. At separate trials last year, Ms. Gu received a suspended death sentence for murdering Briton Neil Heywood, while Mr. Wang received a 15-year prison term, for the coverup and other crimes.
Commentators said the relative openness of his trial aside, Mr. Bo’s crimes were chiefly political—he crossed other Chinese leaders with his ambition—and his verdict will be political too. “Bo Xilai in the past enjoyed privileges outside the law and could do as he pleases. Chinese law cannot control him,” said Mao Yushi, an elderly, liberal-minded economist in a posting on his verified account on Sina Corp.’s Weibo microblog service.
Some on Weibo noted that Mr. Bo himself seemed prepared for a lengthy sentence. They reposted part of his closing statement to the court: “Now stuck in prison, all sorts of feelings well up for what is left of my life.”
Senior party officials convicted of crimes are often released early on medical parole. Chen Xitong, once a member of the party’s Politburo like Mr. Bo, was jailed for corruption and given a 16-year jail sentence in 1998. He was released on medical parole in 2006. He died in June this year.
Though Sunday is usually a day off in China, this coming Sunday is a workday for government offices to make up for an extra holiday day on Friday tacked on to the annual Mid-Autumn Festival.
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