JINAN, China (AFP) – Ousted Chinese politician Bo Xilai lashed out at his long-awaited trial Thursday, contesting bribery charges arising from a lurid murder and corruption scandal that has shaken the country’s communist leadership.
Bo, who was tipped for top office ahead of a once-in-a-decade leadership transition last year, accused a key prosecution witness of “selling his soul”, while describing purported testimony from his wife Gu Kailai as laughable.
Bo faces charges of bribery, embezzlement and abusing his political powers to cover up Gu’s murder of British businessman Neil Heywood in 2011, according to the Intermediate People’s Court in Jinan, in eastern China, which released regular transcripts on its Twitter-like weibo account.
But rather than following standard procedure for Chinese political trials — where the accused tend to confess — Bo went on the offensive as he appeared in public for the first time in about 18 months, wearing an open-necked white shirt.
He denied accepting more than 1.1 million yuan ($180,000) in bribes from Dalian businessman Tang Xiaolin, saying he had “confessed against his will” while under interrogation by the Communist Party’s feared internal disciplinary body.
“I was not at all aware about the details of the matter,” the 64-year-old said. “My mind was blank at the time.”
Tang, he said, was “utterly corrupt and a liar”, countering that the businessman himself had committed “major crimes” of embezzlement and bribery.
“He’s simply trying to get his punishment reduced,” Bo said. “That’s why he bites around like a mad dog.”
The judge told him: “Defendant, the court reminds you, you can’t use language slandering the dignity of the witness.”
Bo also denied accusations that he accepted money and gifts worth 20.7 million yuan — including a villa in southern France — from Xu Ming, chairman of private conglomerate Shide Group, calling them “untrue”.
Bo said he was “completely unaware” of the French property, adding “the whole process was made up”.
The court said in a statement that Gu — in connection with the bribery charges — had provided evidence that she took tens of thousands of dollars at a time from safes at the couple’s homes.
But Bo described her purported testimony as “hilarious”.
“How could she say for certain that I put the $50,000 or $80,000 into the safes?” he asked.