Beijing: Disgraced Chinese Communist Party leader Bo Xilai sprang a surprise on the first day of his high profile trial today by defiantly going back on his earlier testimony, calling a witness a “mad dog” and describing his wife's evidence against him as “laughable”.
Appearing in public for the first time after he was taken into custody in March last year, Bo, 64, took full advantage of the “open trial” at Jinnan Intermediate Court in eastern China and went back on his earlier testimonies, catching the prosecutors unawares.
Over 100 people were permitted to attended the trial in which five of his relatives 19 journalists were present while the updates on the trial were posted on the court's Twitter-like Chinese microblog Weibo account.
Regarded as the most charismatic of contemporary Chinese leaders, Bo kept his rebel image by denying accepting 1.1 million yuan (USD 1,80,000) from Tang Xiaolin, General Manager of Dalian International Development Co Ltd, when he was Chief of Dalian city.
“I had gone against my heart and admitted (accepting bribes from Tang on three occasions) while the Central Disciplinary Commission investigated me,” Bo was quoted as saying by the Hong Kong based South China Morning Post.
Looking sullen and rundown, Bo who came to the court wearing an open necked white shirt and tucked between two policemen.
“I had no knowledge of these details back then, my brain was blank,” he said responding to the presiding judge's query if he had accepted the money.
More interestingly, Bo questioned his wife Gu Kailai's testimony saying that it doesn't suggest he had put money he earned through corrupt means into their shared safe deposit box.
She is also not in the right frame of mind as she is imprisoned serving a suspended death sentence, he said, citing Gu's conviction in the 2011 murder of British businessman Neil Heywood.
Gu had no need to take their shared funds, because she had her own money, which by far exceeded the sums she claimed to have taken from him, he said.
He dismissed Gu's testimony, as read by the prosecutor, calling it “very comical, laughable”, state-run CCTV said.
Bo's trial is the communist giant's most politically-charged in decades. Two years ago, Bo was seen as a candidate for promotion to the Politburo Standing Committee, the seven-member top decision-making body of the ruling party.
According to the prosecution, Gu admitted to taking several hundreds of thousands of yuan and tens of thousands of US dollars from a shared safe in their homes in Shenyang and Beijing.
She used the funds while she was staying with their son Bo Guagua in Britain, the prosecution said.
Bo termed Tang, a key prosecution witness, a “mad dog” and said his testimony contradicts “everyday logic”. Bo said it is “the ugly performance of a person selling his soul”.
Bo's outburst prompted the judge to caution Bo that he should not use foul language against the witnesses.
“Defendant, the court reminds you, you can't use language slandering the dignity of the witness,” the judge told Bo.
Bo sought to discredit the witness Tang, saying he is a “corrupt man and fraudster”, which prompted the presiding judge to warn Bo to mind his language.
Bo called the testimony of Tang “the ugly performance of a person selling his soul”.
Bo said Tang provided false evidence against him so as to receive leniency in the persecution of his own crimes.
CCTV proactively covered the trial projecting as the sign of the ruling Communist Party of China's (CPC) determination to stamp corruption in high places.
His attempt to recant his earlier statement came after the state TV repeatedly announced that Bo has not contested the charges against him.
The evidence reportedly placed against Bo by prosecution reportedly included video testimony by Gu against her husband.
The trial began amid tight security this morning with over 300 local and international media converging at the court to cover the court proceedings regarded as the most significant after the 1981 trial of the Gang of Four led by Mao Zedong's wife Jiang Qing.
Like Jiang, Bo son of a prominent former CPC leader, toyed with the idea of reviving Mao's hardline Marxist ideology with hopes to contest for the top spot of the once-in-a-decade leadership change towards the end of last year.
Bo's brothers Xiyong and Xicheng were seen in the second row along with family confidante Wang Li from the Deheng law firm.
While most of the media was kept out, a court spokesman has briefed the press on main charges and proceedings of the case which he said was fair as Bo was given proper opportunity to defend himself.
The charges against him were two fold.
One related to bribery and embezzlement during his tenure as the Party head of Dalian while the other related to abuse of power to shield Gu from the murder probe of Heywood.
Bo served as the head of Dalian city and later as Commerce Minister, before taking as head of Chongqing city from where he was sacked last year. He was due to contest to the top post of last year CPC's once-in-a-decade leadership change.
Prosecution had charged that between 2000 and 2012, he has received bribes totalling 21.8 million yuan (about USD 4 million) either himself or through his wife or son from Tang and Xu Ming, chairman of the Dalian Shide Group. Both Tang and Xu testified against Bo.