The Chinese Communist Party on Friday announced the expulsion from its ranks of former high-flying politician Bo Xilai, with state media saying that he will “face justice,” a move that sets up a coming crescendo in the biggest leadership scandal to hit Beijing in decades.
After months of speculation about whether Bo would be dealt with through quieter, inner-party disciplinary measures, the Communist Party’s Politburo decided in a meeting on Friday that his “suspected law violations” would be transferred to judicial authorities.
A damning and sweeping series of allegations were laid out against Bo, though no details were given in the official media account, including that he’d accepted bribes, abused official power and “had or maintained improper sexual relationships with a number of women.” That the accusations named government positions he’d held back to a mayor’s job he first took in 1992 signals that Bo faces serious punishment.
The Politburo reportedly made its decision after deliberating over an investigation on “Bo’s severe disciplinary violations,” submitted by the party’s central commission for discipline inspection.
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“He took advantage of his office to seek profits for others and received huge bribes personally and through his family,” the state Xinhua newswire said, relaying 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.”
Xinhua announced in tandem that a party congress due to usher in a once-in-a-decade transition of power will be held Nov. 8. That item and the one concerning Bo were posted within minutes of one another, a fitting sequence given that many have speculated the meetings had been held up in part by factional fighting over his fate.
Although the Communist Party has sought to frame Bo’s case and those surrounding it as a matter of law, it’s widely been seen as a political issue. During his time as the party chief of the southwestern metropolis of Chongqing, Bo’s ambition, populist politics and willingness to invoke Mao Zedong-era slogans and songs were thought to rankle some senior leaders in Beijing.
Any legal proceedings against him, as with all high-profile cases, almost certainly will be scripted by party leadership. In seeking to do so, however, Beijing would need to walk a fine line of castigating Bo, a longtime official, for various crimes while trying not to further public perception that the Communist Party is in fact saturated by corruption.
Among the messages from leadership relayed by Xinhua was that “Party organizations at various levels must use Bo’s case as a negative example to . . . maintain strict Party discipline, improve the Party’s working style, speed up the building of the system for punishing and preventing corruption, and constantly enhance the Party’s capabilities of self-purification, self-improvement and self-innovation – all in a bid to maintain the Party’s advanced nature and purity.”
The first, and dramatic, step in the dismantling of Bo’s career came 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. At the time, Bo, the son of a legendary Communist Party leader, was considered a leading candidate for the Politburo’s standing committee, the apex of political power in China.
While it was clear that his political career was done, there remained wide division of opinion in China-watching circles about whether Bo, long seen as party royalty here, would ever appear in a courtroom.
Friday’s announcement suggests that officials had been building momentum against Bo through the earlier trial of his wife, Gu Kailai, in August and then the former police chief, Wang Lijun, last week. While Gu received a death sentence likely to be converted to a lengthy prison term, eyebrows were raised by Wang’s relatively light punishment of 15 years after being found guilty on charges involving defection, abuse of power and taking bribes.
In describing Wang’s trial, Xinhua recounted an alleged incident in which Bo slapped Wang in January after being confronted by accusations of his wife’s involvement in the death in November of Briton Neil Heywood in a Chongqing hotel room. The item did not name Bo, but it made his identity clear by listing his position, a public mention that suggested authorities were now turning their attention to him.
Xinhua also reported that Wang had “produced important clues that exposed serious offenses committed by others and played a key part in the investigation of the cases, which could be considered as major meritorious service.” That language now appears almost certainly to have referred to the prosecution of Bo.
“Bo abused his power, made severe mistakes and bore major responsibility in the Wang Lijun incident and the intentional homicide case” involving his wife, said the Xinhua report on Friday.
Xinhua released the news on a Friday evening before a weeklong national holiday in which many Chinese will be traveling. About an hour later, the article’s content was scrolled across the screen and read out loud, word for word, on state television by a monotone male voice.
Researcher Joyce Zhang contributed from Beijing.