BEIJING —The sensational trial of purged Chinese politician Bo Xilai wound to a dramatic end Monday with Bo accusing the government’s chief witness of being in love with his wife, and prosecutors demanding a stiff sentence to punish him for withdrawing his confessions.
“Bo Xilai not only denied a lot of proven evidence, but recanted his own handwritten testimony and statement,” an unidentified prosecutor was quoted as saying in a transcript of the trial’s closing arguments. “He doesn’t meet the standards for a reduced sentence, so should be punished severely in accordance with the law."
The 64-year-old Bo, once a contender for the Chinese leadership, embarrassed prosecutors by upstaging them at what was supposed to be a well-scripted two-day show trial. His combative courtroom antics and caustic putdowns of witnesses, more F. Lee Bailey than Chinese apparatchik, dragged the trial into five days and left the outcome not entirely certain.
The soap-opera-like trial became more salacious in closing arguments when Bo tried to discredit Wang Lijun, accusing him of courting Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, according to transcripts released Monday.
They were “close as glue and paint,” Bo said, using a Chinese euphemism for a romantic attachment. Bo alleged that he had confiscated a letter that Wang had written to Gu confessing his love.
Bo also contended that Wang tried to seek political asylum at a U.S. consulate because Bo had discovered the illicit relationship.
“He hurt my family. He hurt my feelings. This is the real reason for his defection,” Bo said.
In a country where 98% of defendants are convicted in courts run by the Communist Party, acquittal on any of the three charges -- bribery, embezzlement and covering up a murder -- would be a major upset and an embarrassment.
China’s official news media on Monday continued a barrage of criticism against Bo and praised the openness of the trial, which is being conducted in a courthouse barricaded by more than 1,000 security personnel in Jinan, 250 miles south of Beijing.
Although only a handful of state journalists have been permitted in the courtroom, redacted transcripts of the proceedings are being released through the court’s microblog account.
But the recent transcripts appear to be censored, with information favorable to Bo’s defense and embarrassing to the Communist Party leadership omitted. Little has been released about how Wang, the former police chief in Chongqing, where Bo had been Communist Party secretary, sought political asylum in the consulate after discovering Bo’s wife was involved in a murder --- an incident that nearly triggered a diplomatic crisis between China and the United States.
The redacted portions of the transcript apparently suggest that Beijing’s central leadership might have been involved at least initially in a coverup of the burgeoning scandal.
For example, Bo is accused of fabricating medical documents suggesting that Wang was mentally ill. Bo testified that he was merely following “superior orders,” a reference that was included in an early version of the transcripts and later deleted.
Bo is charged with accepting more than $4 million in bribes from a tycoon, Xu Ming, including a $3.3-million villa on the French Riviera. Prosecutors conceded Monday that Bo didn’t know initially about the property, which was handled by his wife, but said he should have given it back.
Until the trial opened last week, Bo had been held virtually incommunicado under a unique Communist Party system for investigating officials known as shuanggui. During that period, Bo signed handwritten confessions admitting to the charges, but in court, he has said that he did so under “psychological pressure."
Criminal defense attorneys say that it is common for Chinese defendants to recant their confessions, which are often extracted using torture or psychological pressure, but that Bo is likely to be punished for it.
“The court could give Bo a very long sentence, somewhere between 15 years in prison to life, because they feel he is not cooperating,” said Shang Baojun, a prominent Beijing attorney. “He really did a surprising good job of defending himself."
Besides bribery, Bo is charged with embezzling money from the city of Dalian, where he was mayor in the 1990s, and of covering up the murder of Neil Heywood, an Englishman who had managed real estate for his wife. Gu confessed last year to poisoning Heywood and is serving a suspended death sentence, tantamount to life in prison.
Bo demolished many of the government’s witnesses during cross-examination. On Sunday, he denounced his wife, who gave statements against him ahead of the trial, as “insane” and a “liar,” and Wang as an “abominable liar.’’