China's Bo Xilai expelled and faces criminal charges

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Media caption,

Martin Patience reports: "Murder, corruption and cover-up" exposed at the heart of power

Top Chinese politician Bo Xilai has been expelled from the Communist Party and will face justice, state media say.

Mr Bo, the ex-Communist Party leader in the city of Chongqing, is accused of abuse of power and corruption.

His wife, Gu Kailai, was given a suspended death sentence in August for murdering UK national Neil Heywood.

The scandal has overshadowed the party congress that will oversee China's change of leadership. It will begin on 8 November, state media have announced.

The BBC's Martin Patience, in Beijing, says the Bo Xilai announcement ends months of speculation over the fate of a man who was once one of China's most powerful politicians.

Our correspondent says it is clear China's leaders wanted to try to end the damaging revelations, with the once-in-a-decade leadership change looming.

He says Mr Bo's career is over and he will almost certainly spend time in jail.

'Grave repercussions'

Mr Bo has not been seen in public since mid-March, shortly after the scandal erupted and it was announced he was under investigation. He was suspended from his party posts in April.

Reporting an official statement from a party leaders' meeting, the state news agency, Xinhua, said Mr Bo stood accused of corruption, abuse of power, bribe-taking and improper relations with women.

The statement carried by Xinhua said Mr Bo "took advantage of his office to seek profits for others and received huge bribes personally and through his family".

It added: "Bo's behaviour brought serious consequences, badly undermined the reputation of the party and the country, created very negative impact at home and abroad and significantly damaged the cause of the party and people."

The statement urged "party organisations at all levels" to take heed of the "negative example" of the Bo Xilai case.

Xinhua said the violations included Mr Bo's time as an official in Dalian and Liaoning provinces, and as minister of commerce.

Image caption,
Bo Xilai (C) with convicted wife Gu Kailai and son Bo Guagua

"Bo had affairs and maintained improper sexual relationships with a number of women," the statement added.

Xinhua said Mr Bo had been expelled from the party and the elite decision-making Politburo and Central Committee as he had "abused his power, made severe mistakes and bore major responsibility in the Wang Lijun incident and the intentional homicide case of [Gu Kailai]".

Wang Lijun was Chongqing's former police chief who was sentenced to 15 years in jail for ''bending the law, defection, abuse of power and bribetaking" in the Neil Heywood case.

The severity of the accusations against Mr Bo surprised some observers, who had thought he might escape criminal prosecution.

"The party is very anxious to settle this contentious issue before the opening of the party congress," Prof Willy Lam of the Chinese University of Hong Kong told the Associated Press.

"So I think even though there are still powerful supporters and patrons of Bo Xilai, they have agreed to this stiff penalty to be meted out against Bo. And having settled this contentious issue, the party leadership is in a position to start the party congress with a facade of unity."

There had been no formal word on the congress date until now, but many observers expected it in October. Prof Lam suggested that any delay had been because of "intensive competition among the various factions".

There was speedy reaction to the latest news on China's social media sites.

On Sina Weibo, Shenjing Jihua posted that Mr Bo had "finally met his end", adding: "So justice will prevail, and there is still hope for China."

Although there were some postings in support of Mr Bo, others broadened the affair into a critique of Chinese corruption.

Huaju Yanyuan on said: "The case of Bo Xilai tells us that one overlooked event led to a series of troubles, and that there isn't any clean official in China."

The news came on the eve of a national holiday, raising suspicions the authorities wanted to bury the announcement, some observers note.

Xinhua also announced that the party congress, which will herald the change of China's leadership, will begin on 8 November.

The Bo Xilai scandal has been China's biggest in two decades and has cast a long shadow over the run-up to the congress, which is expected to see Xi Jinping replace Hu Jintao as president.

Mr Bo, 63, had been a prime candidate for a top post before the scandal broke.

It started when Wang Lijun fled to a US consulate in February, alleging that Gu Kailai had poisoned Neil Heywood to death in November 2011.

Gu was convicted of killing Mr Heywood after a multi-million dollar business deal turned sour. Mr Bo's supporters have claimed from the start that he is being framed by his political enemies, correspondents say.

There are still questions surrounding the scandal. On Thursday, one of China's top forensic scientists cast doubt on Gu's conviction, saying there was no evidence the Briton was poisoned with cyanide.