Bo Xilai found guilty of corruption by Chinese court

John Sudworth: "This is a political purge from which you have to assume there is no coming back"

A Chinese court has found disgraced former top politician Bo Xilai guilty of bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power.

The former party chief of Chongqing was sentenced to life imprisonment, but has the right to appeal.

He had denied all the charges against him in a fiery defence at his trial.

Bo was removed from office last year amid a scandal which saw his wife convicted for the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood.

The verdict was handed down by the Intermediate People's Court in Jinan, Shandong province.

Passing sentence the judge told Bo that he had damaged China's national interests and the interests of its people, wrongfully using his position in power to receive bribes totalling 20 million Chinese Yuan ($3.2m; £2m).

He rejected Bo's claims that his confession to the crimes was acquired through illegal means such as torture and interrogation, and said it therefore stood.

The BBC's John Sudworth, outside the court, said that the judge completely dismissed Bo's defence arguments.

During Bo's trial last month the court took the unprecedented step of releasing details about proceedings on its Weibo microblog.

Analysis

The curtains appear to have finally dropped on Bo Xilai's once-glittering Communist Party career.

Bo can appeal against the trial verdict and his life sentence, but it is highly improbable he could engineer a future in which he re-enters China's political arena. He has been stripped of all political rights for life.

Other convicted politicians were released from prison after serving only part of their original sentences. Chen Xitong, a former Politburo member, was released on medical parole after serving half of his original 16-year prison term.

However, Bo Xilai is 64-years-old. Even before his political downfall, he was moving towards the final chapter in his career. It is difficult to envision a scenario in which he can quickly revive his populist power base, even if he gains an early release from prison.

It is difficult to make predictions in the world of Chinese politics. Two years ago Bo appeared to be poised to move into Zhongnanhai, the government compound in Beijing were China's top leaders reside.

Now, he will spend the foreseeable future inside a prison cell.

Bo was sentenced to life in prison on the bribery charges, 15 years for embezzlement and seven years for abuse of power - our correspondent says that he has been politically buried. In addition all his personal wealth has been confiscated.

He has 10 days to appeal against his sentence and conviction, but correspondents say that any such move is highly unlikely to be successful.

Although his trial was conducted under an unprecedented degree of openness for China, many analysts say that the guilty verdict was always a foregone conclusion - and many see the process against him as having a very strong political dimension.

Prosecutors had said that Bo accepted the bribes and embezzled public funds from Dalian, where he used to be mayor.

Start Quote

File photo: Bo Xilai

Bo was also the only leader of his generation to truly try to reach across from the privileged elite zone of power in modern China and speak directly to people”

End Quote Kerry Brown University of Sydney

He was also accused of abusing his office by using his position to cover up for his wife Gu Kailai, convicted last year of murdering Neil Heywood in 2011.

In lengthy comments in court, he said he did not illegally obtain millions of dollars or cover up Mr Heywood's killing.

He also dismissed the testimony of two key witnesses, describing his wife's statement as "ridiculous" and his former police chief Wang Lijun's testimony as "full of lies and fraud".

Political crisis

Bo's fall from power was triggered when Wang sought refuge in the US consulate in Chengdu in February 2012.

The incident prompted an investigation into the death of Mr Heywood. Wang has since been jailed for 15 years for helping Gu cover up the murder.

The Bo Xilai scandal triggered a crisis in the Communist Party, which was about to hold its once-in-a-decade leadership handover, and revealed divisions at the top of the party over how Bo should be handled.

Two years ago Bo Xilai was seen as a candidate for promotion to the Politburo Standing Committee, China's top decision-making body.

His downfall was seen as the biggest political shake-up to hit China's ruling elite in decades.

But his trial also offered the public a rare glimpse into the life of China's rich and powerful, with lurid details emerging of lavish vacations and luxury villas.

Earlier this week, an overseas-based dissident Chinese news website published a letter allegedly written by Bo in prison on 12 September.

File photo: combination photo of Wang Lijun (left), Bo Xilai (centre) and Gu Kailai Mr Bo dismissed the testimony of Wang Lijun (left) and his own wife Gu Kailai

Hong Kong newspaper South China Morning Post said that unidentified insiders with close ties to Mr Bo had confirmed that the letter, addressed to Bo's family, was genuine.

"I am an innocent victim and I feel wronged," the letter read. "But I believe one day truth will prevail...I will wait quietly in jail for that day to come."

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