China's disgraced politician Bo Xilai to appear in court next week

Friday 25 January 2013 17.00
Mr Bo expelled from the party, accused of corruption and of bending the law to hush up the killing
Mr Bo expelled from the party, accused of corruption and of bending the law to hush up the killing

China's disgraced former senior politician, Bo Xilai, will go on trial next week in what would be the final act of a drama that has shaken the ruling Communist Party.

Mr Bo, 63, was once a contender for the top leadership in the world's second-largest economy.

He was ousted in China's biggest political scandal in two decades last year following his wife's murder of a British businessman, Neil Heywood.

Mr Bo, a former commerce minister, turned the sprawling, haze-covered southwestern municipality of Chongqing into a showcase for his mix of populist policies and bold spending plans that won support from leftists yearning for a charismatic leader.

However his career unravelled after his former police chief, Wang Lijun, fled to a US consulate for more than 24 hours in February and alleged that Mr Bo's wife, Gu Kailai, had murdered Heywood with poison.

Both Mr Wang and Mr Gu have since been jailed and Mr Bo expelled from the party, accused of corruption and of bending the law to hush up the killing.

Formal charges against Bo have yet to be made public.

The mainland China-run Ta Kung Pao newspaper said on its website that Bo's trial would start next Monday.

The trial will take place in the southern city of Guiyang and last three days. It cited "well-informed Beijing sources", but gave no details.

One of Mr Bo's lawyers, Li Guifang, declined to comment when reached by telephone.

A court official in Guiyang who gave his family name as Li said he had not heard anything about the case.

"The case has not yet even been put forward for prosecution," he added.

A source with direct knowledge of the case told Reuters he "had not heard" that the trial would begin next week.

China's Foreign Ministry, typically the only government department which regularly fields questions from foreign reporters, said questions about Mr Bo's trial should be referred to the "relevant authorities" and declined further comment.

Wang Yuncai, one of the lawyers for Wang Lijun, said it was quite possible the court case could open on Monday, though she said she did not know for certain.

The two Wangs are not related.

Li Zhuang, a Beijing lawyer who opposed Wang Lijun and Mr Bo for mounting a sweeping crackdown on foes in the name of fighting organised crime, said he also thought it was possible for a Monday hearing.

China has thrown a veil of official secrecy over Mr Bo's fate, with the latest brief announcement earlier this month simply confirming that he had been handed over to the courts.

That has prompted a wave of rumours, mostly spread by overseas Chinese websites, about when and where the trial will be.