JINAN, China (AP) — Greed, machinations and betrayal in one of China’s elite families went on display Friday when prosecutors in the corruption trial of disgraced politician Bo Xilai released testimony from his wife on a businessman’s gifts to the family, including a French villa and plane tickets to three continents.
Bo retorted in the unexpectedly drawn-out trial that his wife, Gu Kailai, was "crazy" and a convicted killer, disputing the prosecution’s contention that the gifts amounted to bribes — or that he even knew about them — and denying he had provided any political favors in exchange for them.
"Bogu Kailai has changed, she’s crazy, and she’s always making things up," Bo told the Jinan Intermediate People’s Court. "Under conditions where her mental state is abnormal, the investigators put her under immense pressure to expose me."
The lurid details also have a serious political side, with the ruling Communist Party using the trial against Bo, a former Politburo member and party leader of Chongqing, to cap a messy political scandal unleashed by suspicions that his wife killed a British businessman.
That scandal led to his political ouster, cemented by criminal charges of interfering with the murder investigation and netting $4.3 million through corruption.
But China’s leaders also need to perform a balancing act with the trial by showing they are serious about fighting graft but without encouraging complaints that such abuses are widespread under one-party rule. The trial is widely believed to have a conviction as its predetermined outcome, but Bo has launched an unexpectedly spirited defense.
The proceedings are lasting much longer than other recent high-profile trials, including the August 2012 conviction of Gu of Neil Heywood’s murder and the corruption conviction in June of a former railways minister. In those, the defendants confessed and scant details were released.
Bo’s trial had been expected to be similar, but observers say he may have negotiated for his day in court. "It’s most likely that Bo has made concessions to the disciplinary commission to win a chance to defend himself in the trial," said veteran lawyer Zhang Sizhi, who has represented many defendants in high-profile political cases, including Mao Zedong’s wife, in 1980.
The trial has focused attention on Bo’s alleged individual economic misdeeds and avoided discussion of the political battle he’s widely perceived as having lost in his pursuit of a seat in China’s apex of power ahead of last year’s leadership transition, analysts said. That political context means a guilty verdict is a foregone conclusion, they say.
"The fact that he lost in the political game predetermined a guilty verdict, irrespective of the value of evidence being put in court," said Willy Lam, an expert on party politics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
As the children of revolutionary veterans, both Bo and Gu are examples of how the offspring of party elders have access to important political and business connections that ride on their pedigrees
In Gu’s statement, videotaped Aug. 10, she said a businessman accused of bribing Bo was a family friend who did many favors for them in exchange for her husband’s help. The businessman, Xu Ming, is from the northeastern city of Dalian, where Bo was once a top official.
She said Xu gave the family a villa in Nice, France, often paid for their international air tickets — prosecutors later said that included trips to Europe, Africa and South America — and expensive gifts, including a Segway — an electric standup scooter — for her son. She said Bo had been aware of the gifts.
"Xu Ming is our old and longtime friend," Gu is seen telling her questioner. "We had a very good impression of him and believed he was honest and kind, so we trusted him a lot."
Gu is seen seated at a table in a black-and-white striped shirt in the video, posted on the Jinan court’s microblog. The microblog and court transcripts have provided a rare but possibly incomplete window into the proceedings for the public and for foreign media, which have been barred from the courtroom.
Bo is accused of embezzlement and abusing his power in interfering in the investigation of Heywood’s 2011 murder. The trial wrapped up bribery allegations Friday and moved on to hear the charge of embezzlement in proceedings that will continue Saturday.
Bo’s defense strategy has focused on challenging the relevance of prosecutors’ evidence and stating he was ignorant of any favors that two businessmen were providing his wife and son. He described the testimony presented by his wife and the businessman Xu as "fabricated," and that of his former police chief Wang Lijun as "tittle-tattle."
Besides the testimony, prosecutors have presented documents — receipts, copies of faxes, government approvals — and photos of the villa they say prove the businessmen helped enrich the Bo family in return for political favors from Bo. They have said their witness testimonies were obtained legally and that Gu, in particular, was not affected by any medication that would impair her self-control.
Gu spoke softly in the video but appeared healthy and at ease. Asked by her questioner if the interview had been conducted with any "illegal, violent, threatening or dishonest means," she smiled and with a chuckle replied: "No."
Prosecutors also presented written statements by Gu and others about the French villa, worth $3 million in 2000, which Xu allegedly bought for Bo’s family.
Gu detailed how she and some associates hatched a plan to set up a property company to buy the villa to evade taxes and hide the family’s ownership. Gu said the villa was to be refurbished and rented out as an investment to ensure a steady income for her son, Bo Guagua.
"This idea received Bo Xilai’s support," she said.
She said her husband also viewed a slideshow of the renovations on her computer, saying she was "an artist with real talent." She said she also told Bo in 2002 that she "allowed" Xu to buy the property for her, and that she reassured Bo later when he asked if it was safe for Xu to do so.
Associated Press writers Christopher Bodeen, Didi Tang and Ian Mader in Beijing contributed to this report.