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Ex-Chinese official’s trial ends with soap opera twist

Bribery charges take back seat to hints of an affair

JINAN, China — Concluding a trial that has riveted China, Bo Xilai, a former elite Communist Party official, attacked elements of the prosecution’s case Monday and said his former top deputy and his wife, both of whom provided evidence against him, had a passionate relationship with each other.

Bo said the charges of bribery, embezzlement, and abuse of power against him were deeply flawed because they depended on evidence from his wife, Gu Kailai, and his former top deputy, Wang Lijun, who he suggested were themselves involved with the abuses Bo was accused of committing — and with each other.

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Wang and Gu “were stuck together as if by glue,” he said in his closing comments.

Bo’s final testimony added to the soap opera-like twists in a trial that provided an unusual showcase of how China manages its legal system. Bo, 64, who was stripped of his membership in China’s ruling Politburo last year, is nearly certain to be found guilty. But he was given considerable leeway to defend himself in extended and colorful testimony, according to transcripts of the trial that were circulated by the court and that appeared widely in state media.

The trial was carefully stage-managed by the ruling Communist Party to focus on narrow criminal charges brought against Bo rather than the broader political struggle that led to his purge. Neither Bo nor the prosecutor referred to serious tensions that moving against a Politburo member, who hailed from a prominent revolutionary clan, caused for the party during a year of political succession.

Bo’s oratory, starting from his defiant remarks Thursday, may have given spectators the impression that he had freedom to speak his mind, and also won him some sympathizers. But the trial appeared to substitute drama for completeness. He appeared to limit his own comments to addressing the prosecution’s claims and did not, as he might have done, use his knowledge as a party leader to reveal how the families of other powerful party leaders had amassed far more wealth than he was accused of acquiring.

In previous days, testimony showed that Bo’s wife and son had taken lavish gifts from a billionaire; that Gu had told Wang, who was the police chief of Bo’s metropolitan region, Chongqing, that she had poisoned a British businessman; and that Bo had punched or slapped Wang in the face after Wang confronted him with that news two months later.

The trial was the most closely watched in China since that of the Gang of Four, which included Mao Zedong’s wife Jiang Qing, was televised live in 1980. Bo’s trial is taking place in the social media age, and the party is learning to harness the power of microblogs for information control. Journalists, barred from the courtroom, sat in hotel rooms for hours reading transcripts released via the court microblog.

The most explosive revelation of the trial came when Bo asserted in his closing speech that Wang had had a final falling out with Bo and fled to a nearby US consulate in late 2011 in large part because of tensions that boiled over from his infatuation with Gu. The wife and the police chief had been close for years, Bo said, ever since a young tycoon, Xu Ming, introduced Wang to Gu. Wang won Gu’s confidence when he investigated Gu’s suspicions that she had been poisoned, and he became a constant presence in the Bo household.

“Because he and Gu Kailai were stuck together as if by glue, Gu Kailai took him at his word, and Wang Lijun infiltrated my household because of his association with Gu Kailai,” Bo said.

He added: “The two had an extremely special relationship, and I was so sick of it.”

The speech appeared to confirm earlier assertions from people familiar with the family that Wang and Gu had had a relationship that went well beyond a close friendship. One Bo family associate said before the trial that Wang visited Gu at her home daily and took charge of her medical care; Gu had become a recluse since falling ill around 2006.

Earlier in the closing statement, Bo defended himself against the bribe-taking and embezzlement charges by saying he had few material desires. “I have no interest in clothing,” he said. “I still wear the cotton-padded pants my mother bought for me in the ’60s.”

Bo also denied any knowledge of the expensive gifts Xu gave his wife and son, like airplane tickets.

“The state country didn’t select me for my accounting skills,” he said. “I’m not an accountant in charge of flight ticket reimbursements.”

But Bo did admit to lapses in authority as head of his household, even if he was innocent of criminal negligence: “I did not manage my family and subordinates well,” he said. “I made big mistakes, and let down the party and the masses.”

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