China Central Television via Reuters
Ousted senior Chinese politician Bo Xilai speaks during his trial in Jinan, Shandong province on August 25, 2013. Bo, the former Communist Party chief in Chongqing, angrily denounced his former police chief on Sunday, the fourth day of his trial.
JINAN, China — The defense strategy of fallen Chinese politician Bo Xilai, who is battling accusations of corruption and shielding a murderer, boils down to this: One of the prosecution's key witnesses is a liar, and the other is crazy.
Four days of testimony at the trial, which has offered a glimpse into the shady inner workings of China's elite, ended Sunday, with Bo assailing his former right-hand man, much as he had done previously to his wife, the other key witness to testify against him.
A court heard allegations over the weekend that Bo abused his power as the Communist Party secretary of the southern megacity of Chongqing to block an investigation into his wife's murder of a British businessman, as well as to hide his aide's embarrassing flight to a U.S. consulate.
Bo told the Jinan Intermediate People's Court on Sunday that his former right-hand man, Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun, "constantly lied in his testimony." He said Wang was "a person of very vile quality, who lied in court and muddied the waters."
Bo acknowledged that he made mistakes in the handling of the incidents that triggered the nation's biggest political scandal in decades and brought shame on the Communist Party, but denied criminal misconduct.
After testimony concluded Sunday, the court said all evidence in the trial had been presented. The trial was adjourned until Monday, when closing arguments are expected to take place.
The Communist Party is using the trial to cement Bo's downfall and wrap up a scandal that hangs over the party's recently installed new leadership as it tries to cement its authority and fully focus on tackling serious economic and social challenges. Bo's downfall also has been widely perceived as the result of his defeat in party infighting ahead of China's once-a-decade leadership transition last fall.
In a rare show of openness, the court has been publicizing details of the trial in a bid to lend credibility to what is widely seen as a political show trial. Bo, in return, has refrained from using the trial as a stage on which to denounce the administration and the opponents who purged him — which would likely be the leadership's worst nightmare.
"So far, the worst has been avoided," said Ding Xueliang, a Chinese politics expert at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. "He's been trying to play the game within the limitations set up by the Chinese leadership. He does not talk about politically sensitive things, even though everybody inside and outside China knows that he's in trouble for politics."
Still, the ousted leader mounted an unexpectedly spirited defense against charges of abuse of power and of netting $4.3 million through corruption, recanting earlier confessions and rarely expressing contrition as he sought to lay the blame for most of the misdeeds on his wife and others. He deftly cross-examined witnesses, and was selectively unable to recall key details when the questioning turned to him.
It appeared to be Bo's last-ditch effort to repair the damage the scandal wrought on the clean, populist image he had so carefully cultivated for years — and might have caught by surprise prosecutors who were armed with the confessions and other evidence.
"Today's society faces acute contradictions, and people tend to involuntarily sympathize with those who are being attacked by the authorities, so he's been able to portray himself as a victim, as a defeated hero," said Zhang Lifan, a Chinese historian and political analyst.
Courtroom revelations have painted a colorful picture of how Bo's alleged misconduct enriched his family. He's accused of providing political favors to a businessman, Xu Ming, in return for having him at his family's beck and call. According to Bo's wife, Xu gave the family expensive gifts that included a villa in France and international airfare to three continents. Bo is also accused of funneling $800,000 in government funds from a secret project.
Bo threw his wife, Gu Kailai, under the bus for much of the corruption charges and even some aspects of the abuse of power allegation. Calling her "crazy" after she testified against him, he said he could not be held responsible for crimes she committed without his knowledge. But Chinese officialdom is familiar with the strategy of spreading out an officeholder's illicit assets and wealth among relatives and trusted friends, so Bo's defense is unlikely to convince the public, said Ding, the Chinese politics expert.
The trial laid out how Gu hatched a complicated plan with the help of two foreigners to hide the family's ownership of the French villa, worth millions, and set up a chain of associates through which government funds could be embezzled discreetly.
"It was the first time such a high-ranking family has put down the operation step by step," Ding said. "This case has taught us so much about the dynamics and mechanisms in most Chinese corruption cases."
Testimony also revealed how one of the foreigners, Neil Heywood, demanded more money by threatening the safety of Bo's son and to expose the family. Gu later killed him and received a suspended death sentence for the murder.
The court also heard evidence over the weekend about the events surrounding the attempted U.S. defection bid by Wang, the police chief, in February 2012, an incident that blew the scandal into the open. Wang said he fled to the consulate fearing for his safety after he told Bo that the politician's wife had murdered a British associate.
Bo told the court that he reacted angrily to Wang's report, slapping him in the face and smashing a cup in fury because he initially thought Wang was framing his wife for the crime. "I thought he was being duplicitous. I have zero tolerance for duplicity," Bo said. "I slapped him in the face."
Wang, who testified Saturday, said the violent confrontation with Bo, his subsequent removal as police chief and the disappearance of his subordinates who were investigating the murder spurred him to flee to American officials. He said Bo did not slap him as much as punch him hard, causing his mouth to bleed.
"It was dangerous at the time," Wang told the court. "I was subject to violence, and my staff working closely with me and those working on the case disappeared."
Wang said he believed Bo had ordered an investigation into the police officers involved in the murder case to try to shield his wife — which Bo denied.
First published August 25 2013, 11:12 AM