Bo Xilai, the ambitious Chinese official whose rise was upended by his wife’s murder of an English businessman, has been kicked out of the Communist Party and will face prosecution on multiple criminal counts, the official Xinhua News Agency said Friday. The government mouthpiece also said the 18th Communist Party Congress, which will begin a once-in-a-decade transition of China‘s top leadership, is scheduled to begin Nov. 8. The twin announcements, both significant developments in stories that had roiled China for much of the past year, came just as the country was preparing for a long holiday to mark its Oct. 1 National Day, which will likely limit domestic discussion of the events.
Bo, who was removed from his post as party boss of the city of Chongqing in March, stands accused of abusing power in relation to his wife’s murder case, accepting massive bribes and “having and maintaining improper relationships” with several women. “Bo Xilai’s behavior caused serious consequences, which greatly damaged the reputation of the Party and the country, and had a very bad impact at home and abroad and caused significant damage to the cause of the Party and the people,” Xinhua said.
The announcement was issued just days after Bo’s former deputy Wang Lijun was convicted of abuse of power, bribe taking, defection and “bending the law for selfish ends” and sentenced to a 15-year prison term. Wang, who had previously served as Chongqing’s police chief under Bo, traveled in February to the U.S. consulate in the nearby city of Chengdu, where he spent a day under the protection of U.S. diplomats. While the U.S. hasn’t revealed the full details of Wang’s stay, it’s believed that he revealed details of the killing of businessman Neil Heywood by Bo’s wife Gu Kailai. Gu was convicted in August of poisoning Heywood at a Chongqing hotel after a long drinking session last November. Gu told investigators she killed Heywood, who had had a long relationship with the Bo family, over fears that he posed a threat to the couple’s adult son Bo Guagua because of a failed real estate development deal.
Bo’s downfall has added unexpected and at times macabre twists to this year’s political transition, in which President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao will begin relinquishing their leadership roles to their expected successors, Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang. The transition involves extensive behind-the-scenes negotiations as China’s Communist Party elites attempt to choose a combination of leaders who will appease all significant political factions. In public the process is carefully scripted, but this year has seen unexpected drama, from Wang’s flight to Gu’s murder trial to the two-week disappearance in early September of Xi, the presumed presidential successor. His absence from all public events was later explained by Tung Chee-hwa, Hong Kong’s former chief executive, as the result of a back injury.
Bo, 63, has been under investigation by a Communist Party disciplinary body for several months. He is accused of violating party regulations not only during his 4 1/2 years in Chongqing but also during previous stints as Minister of Commerce, governor of Liaoning province and mayor of the port city of Dalian, a period that spans 20 years. While in Chongqing, Bo and his former deputy Wang launched a massive crackdown on organized crime that gained him widespread attention even as investigators tortured defendants and violated basic rights of the accused. Those efforts had help make Bo a potential candidate for selection to the Politburo Standing Committee, China’s top ruling body, which will be reconfigured at the upcoming party congress. But he now faces the prospect of a lengthy prison term instead. Xinhua said Bo was expelled from the Communist Party, which means he will face a criminal trial rather than the possibility of lenient party discipline. His conviction is virtually guaranteed, as the verdict in such a high-profile political case will be ordered by party leaders.
Some political analysts had speculated that China would not want to hold Bo’s trial too close to the party congress, as it would give the appearance of a politically motivated prosecution and highlight rampant problems with corruption in China’s political system. “Bo Xilai failed in his oversight of Wang Lijun, so who failed to oversee Bo?” activist lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan tweeted after the decision to prosecute Bo was announced.
By announcing Bo’s impending prosecution in nearly the same breath as the date of the party gathering — both were revealed at 6 p.m. Beijing time on Xinhua’s official Twitter feed — the leadership seems determined to use Bo’s case to strengthen the ruling party rather than weaken it. “The Communist Party’s Central Committee emphasized that the investigation and handling of Bo Xilai’s serious disciplinary problems further reflects the fundamental requirement of tightening party discipline and rule of law, a further indication of the clear-cut position and firm determination of our party against corruption,” Xinhua said.