Last updated: August 23, 2013 1:21 pm
As the Chinese trial of the century prepared to go into a third day, the court in Jinan on Friday heard details of the purchase of a multimillion dollar French villa and was given a glimpse of the jet set lifestyle of the family of Bo Xilai, the most senior Chinese official to be prosecuted in decades.
The trial, which most had expected to last just one day, completed its second day with prosecutors completing their opening remarks about the second of three charges, of bribe-taking, embezzlement and abuse of power, that Mr Bo faces.
Given the political nature of the trial the verdict is still likely to be a guilty one but Mr Bo’s defiant outbursts, his insistence on his innocence and the decision to broadcast proceedings on the Weibo microblog has provided far more drama than many had expected.
On Friday prosecutors presented more voluminous evidence of Mr Bo’s alleged crimes, including written and videotaped testimony from Gu Kailai, his wife, who is serving a suspended death sentence for the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood.
They also presented written testimony from Wang Lijun, the former police chief of Chongqing, whose flight to a US consulate in February last year triggered the events that led to Mr Bo’s downfall.
In his testimony, Mr Wang, who is serving a 15-year sentence for corruption, abuse of power and attempting to defect to the US, described how relations soured between Gu, Heywood and Patrick Devillers, a French citizen who helped buy a luxury villa in Nice for Gu with money provided by a businessman and close associate of Mr Bo.
Testimony presented in court from Mr Devillers alleged Heywood had asked Gu for £1.4m for managing the villa on behalf of the Bo family and had threatened to publicly expose the family’s overseas assets if he did not receive the money.
Mr Bo’s responses in court seemed to exude confidence and control, as presented in written transcripts published online through China’s Twitter-like microblog service Weibo.
As the court opened in the morning Mr Bo even spoke up to express his satisfaction with the proceedings and compliment the judge for being “civilised, reasonable and rational”.
After his wife’s testimony was read out and a video of her was played in court, Mr Bo disparaged her assertions and questioned her mental stability, at one point describing her as “crazy” and a liar.
He also described Wang Lijun’s testimony as “loose talk” and dismissed other testimony as “fictional”.
Political and legal analysts in China have been surprised that such a large part of the trial proceedings has been unveiled to the public and that Mr Bo has been allowed to argue so forcefully in his defence.
Chinese police, courts, prosecutors and even defence lawyers are all under the control of the Communist party and in the one or two-day trials of Mr Wang and Gu last year the proceedings were closed and the only information came out days later in heavily sanitised state media reports.
Despite the apparently unexpected fervour of Mr Bo’s self-defence, the trial’s verdict and sentence are almost certainly a foregone conclusion decided weeks ago by China’s most senior political leaders.
Some political analysts have even suggested Mr Bo’s insistence on arguing against the individual charges has been preapproved by the party in order to lend the process more legitimacy.
While contesting the individual testimonies and pieces of evidence brought against him, Mr Bo has not questioned the legitimacy of the proceedings or the authority of the court or the judge.
Download Jamil Anderlini’s gripping account of the rise and fall of Bo Xilai and the light the scandal sheds on China’s leadership
While he remained defiant, at times Mr Bo appeared to be trying to ingratiate himself to the court, which could help to mitigate his eventual sentence.
“Bo seems to be quite conflicted,” Li Zhuang, a former lawyer who spent more than two years in prison in Chongqing, allegedly on Mr Bo and Mr Wang’s orders, told the Financial Times on Friday. “On the one hand he doesn’t want to admit to any crimes but on the other hand he wants recognition for co-operating and having a good attitude so he can have his sentence reduced.”
The trial, in the eastern Chinese city of Jinan, was expected to last for one day but by the afternoon of the second day the court appeared to have only heard charges related to Mr Bo’s alleged bribe-taking.
It was unclear on Friday how long the trial would continue for and whether proceedings related to the charges of embezzling public funds and abuse of power would also be publicly released.
The trial is the most significant political trial in China since 1980, when Madame Mao and the “gang of four” faced their accusers in a show trial for their role in the bloody and chaotic cultural revolution.
Mr Bo’s trial will continue on Saturday.
Additional Reporting by Gu Yu
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