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Prosecutors call for severe punishment in Bo Xilai case

Prosecutors have called for a severe punishment for former star politician Bo Xilai who allegedly embezzled millions and covered up a murder. The court is expected to hand down a guilty verdict.

Closing arguments were heard on Monday in the high-profile trial of former regional politician, Bo Xilai. This came as proceedings entered their fifth day, far surpassing the expected duration of only two days to hear arguments and deliver a verdict.

Bo has admitted to some wrongdoing, but has maintained his innocence of the allegations brought against him by the prosecution. During the trial, he not only dismissed the reliability of key witnesses - including his wife, two businessmen from whom he allegedly accepted bribes, and his former top aide - but also mocked them, calling them crazy, lacking in character and liars.

The prosecution criticized Bo's behavior during the trial as inconsistent with previous testimony he had given about his alleged crimes.

"We take this opportunity to remind Bo Xilai the facts of the crimes are objective, and can't be shifted around on your whim," the prosecution said on Monday. The Jinan Intermediate People's Court released the closing arguments to the public via its feed on Chinese microblog Sina Weibo.

Bo last served as party boss in the southwest metropolis of Chongqing until a scandal involving the death of British businessman Neil Heywood forced his removal from power in 2012 and landed him in police custody on charges of covering up a murder and abuse of power.

In addition to facing charges of abuse of power in the alleged cover-up of Heywood's murder, the state prosecutor has also charged him with accepting bribes worth up to $3.5 million (20.7 million yuan; 2.6 million euros) in the form of gifts.

"The severeness of the accused's crimes, and that he refused to admit guilt, don't match the circumstances of leniency," it said. "[He] must be severely punished in accordance with the law."

The verdict is to be handed down at a later, unspecified date.

Guilty verdict expected

Despite praise from China's media for the trial's unprecedented transparency, observers expect a similar outcome to that of previous trials involving politicians who have angered the country's Communist Party, which controls the courts.

Bo's obstinacy and brash responses to witness testimony during the proceedings clash with the traditional strategy for receiving a lighter sentence, according to a law professor from US-based Seton Hall University who spoke to the news agency AFP.

"In China, like many other countries, most defendants plead guilty, whether or not it is a case with political implications," Seton Hall University law professor Margaret Lewis said. "In part this Is because of a general policy in China of 'leniency for those who confess, severity for those who resist," Lewis added.

The court could hand down a death penalty. However, Bo has refrained from criticizing the party during his spirited defense. His caution could regain him some favor from the court, according to Chinese politics expert Ding Xueliang from Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

"So far, the worst has been avoided," Ding told news the Associated Press news agency. "He's been trying to play the game within the limitations set up by the Chinese leadership. He does not talk about politically sensitive things, even though everybody inside and outside China knows that he's in trouble for politics."

Despite enjoying public popularity during his time in office, Bo reportedly lost favor within the party for his handling of Heywood's murder. Local police chief, Wang Lijun, singled out Bo's wife - Gu Kailai - as a suspect in the case. Rather than reporting the incident to Beijing, Bo opted to sack the police chief, who then drew attention to the scandal by fleeing to the US consulate in Chengdu and applying for asylum. Gu Kailai was convicted in 2012 of the British businessman's murder.

kms/pfd (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)