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 today, 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.