Jinan, China: Ousted politician Bo Xilai lost his appeal against a life sentence for corruption in his final public appearance Friday before prison—an inglorious end for the once-rising star whose vaulting ambition unnerved China's leadership.
The former Politburo member had fallen from power in a scandal that became a volatile distraction for the Communist Party, unleashing tales of murder and betrayal in the highest ranks.
On Friday, two security guards with hands on his shoulders escorted him out of the courtroom—and off the political stage—ahead of a key leadership meeting next month on economic policy.
The Shandong Provincial Higher People's Court decision to uphold Bo's conviction and life sentence for corruption and abuse of power came as no surprise.
Many political analysts believe Bo's fate has been predetermined by party leaders keen to put him away long enough to prevent him from making a comeback.
However, hints of the charismatic populist's legacy remain in the party's renewed emphasis on connecting with the people.
Bo, a former Politburo member and party boss in Chongqing, was convicted last month of embezzlement, bribery and abuse of power, and sentenced to life in prison.
State broadcaster CCTV showed Bo in court wearing a black jacket over a white shirt, faintly smiling as he stood flanked by two tall uniformed guards.
The court said Bo's offenses “led to extremely severe social consequences and caused major damage to the interest of the country and the people,” according to the ruling, posted on the court's website.
Bo is expected to serve his term at Qincheng Prison, north of Beijing, which houses offenders from the political elite and is plush by Chinese prison standards.
The conclusion of Bo's case bolts the door on a vexing scandal for the party leadership that included embarrassing revelations that Bo's wife murdered a British businessman and that his former aide made a failed attempt to defect to the United States.
It also enables Chinese President Xi Jinping to further unify party leaders who may have been divided over how Bo's fate should be handled and to steer public focus toward the initiatives of the team he leads.
Topping the agenda are a meeting of party leaders in November to draw up a blueprint for economic development and an anti-corruption effort that has been the hallmark campaign of Xi's leadership so far.
“Xi Jinping is anxious to put together at least a semblance of unity among the different factions,” said Willy Lam, an expert on Communist Party politics at Chinese University in Hong Kong. “He wants to shift the attention of the public and the Western media from something negative to something more positive.”
Still unresolved are questions about who should be held responsible for the abuses of his administration in the city of Chongqing—which were conspicuously ignored during Bo's trial.
As party boss, Bo led a crackdown on what he called mafia activities but that critics say was in part an excuse to arrest wealthy private entrepreneurs, torture them into confessing to crimes then jail them after summary trials and seize their assets. Even a prominent lawyer who sought to defend a businessman was put in jail.
“Bo Xilai controlled the police, prosecutors and courts in Chongqing and he cannot avoid responsibility for the wrongful convictions that took place there,” said Li Zhuang, the lawyer who had been jailed in the anti-gang crackdown. “As long as there is no redress, it's difficult to put a full-stop on Bo's case.”
Bo also rode to nationwide fame in reviving Mao Zedong-era campaigns that exploited public anger with the growing income gap and government corruption.
Current leader Xi appears to have taken a page from Bo's playbook on the need for the party to connect with the public, analysts say.
“It's really remarkable that Bo himself has dramatically, significantly changed the political spectrum by pushing very much to the left,” said Dali Yang, a China expert at the University of Chicago. “In that sense, he has left a legacy in the emphasis on fighting inequality.”
Bo's charges were narrowly focused—that he took $3.5 million in bribes from two business associates, embezzled government funds and abused his power in handling his wife's murder case police chief's defection.
The trial became a stage on which Bo fought to defend the reputation he had long cultivated as a clean, upstanding model official. He said he could not be held responsible for crimes that his wife and son committed without his knowledge and said he was betrayed by his right-hand man.
The court rejected Bo's defenses and sentenced him to life in prison on the bribery charges, 15 years for embezzlement and seven years for abuse of power. Legal experts say that a sentence of life imprisonment can be reduced to as little as just over 10 years on good behavior and medical parole.