The disgraced former Chinese politician Bo Xilai has gone on trial in the eastern city of Jinan on corruption charges. One of China's biggest political scandals in decades triggered his downfall.
Bo Xilai, once a leading light in China's Communist Party, went on trial in Jinan on Thursday in a case where a swift guilty verdict was widely anticipated. His political career unraveled around 18 months ago, starting when he was told his wife was a murder suspect.
The former party chief in the major city of Chongqing is charged with bribery, corruption and abuse of power. Bo's trial is the last currently scheduled connected to a scandal surrounding the death of British businessman Neil Heywood in November 2011.
At first, Heywood was cremated without an autopsy and his death was officially attributed to either a heart attack or heavy drinking.
But some three months later, Bo's close ally Wang Lijun, Chongqing's police chief, told the politician that his wife was a murder suspect in Heywood's death. Bo sacked his top police officer, who then fled to the US Consulate in Chengdu and applied for asylum, saying he feared for his safety. As news of this surfaced, Britain formally requested a fresh inquiry into Heywood's death.
Bo's wife, Gu Kailai, later confessed to killing Heywood. Her court case last August lasted just seven hours. She was given a suspended death sentence, a sentence that is often commuted to either life or 20 years in prison in China.
Wang also ended up in prison as a result of the incident, convicted of corruption and covering up the murder. A court heard evidence that Gu had told the police chief of her plans to kill Heywood, and that for a time, Wang was involved in planning the murder.
The Reuters news agency, citing unnamed sources with knowledge of the case, reported that Bo's handling of the case upset Beijing primarily in two ways. Firstly, he sacked police chief Wang Lijun when Wang said his wife was a suspect - a move that reportedly exceeded his official powers. Secondly, Reuters reported that Bo did not report the matter to his superiors in Beijing.
Bo Xilai was a difficult character within the upper echelons of Chinese politics even before the fallout from Heywood's death. His father was a close ally of Mao Zedong, founder of the People's Republic of China, and one of the Eight Elders of the Communist Party of China. He implemented egalitarian social programs and other policies in Chongqing perhaps more reminiscent of the Mao era than of modern Chinese leadership. The economic success of Chongqing under his rule added further weight to those who criticize the extent of capitalist reform in present-day China.
It was not clear prior to the trial how Bo intended to plead.
msh/jr (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)