Bo Xilai Expelled from Party, Will Face Criminal Charges (Updated)

Together with the long-awaited announcement of a start date for the 18th Party Congress, Xinhua revealed on Friday that Bo Xilai has been expelled from the Party and will now face criminal prosecution:

Investigations found that Bo seriously violated the Party disciplines while heading the city of Dalian, Liaoning Province and the Ministry of Commerce as well as serving as a member of the CPC Central Committee Political Bureau and party chief of Chongqing Municipality.

Bo abused his power, made severe mistakes and bore major responsibility in the Wang Lijun incident and the intentional homicide case of Bogu Kailai.

He took advantage of his office to seek profits for others and received huge bribes personally and through his family.

[…] Bo had affairs and maintained improper sexual relationships with a number of women.

He was also found to have violated organizational and personnel disciplines and made wrong decisions in personnel promotion, which led to serious consequences.

The investigation also found clues to his suspected involvement in other crimes.

The trial of Bo’s former sidekick Wang Lijun triggered renewed speculation that Bo would face criminal charges last week. A lengthy Xinhua account of the trial described a dramatic encounter between the two men and implied that Bo had failed to act on knowledge of his wife’s crime; furthermore, Wang was said to have earned a reduced sentence by cooperating with other investigations, of which Bo seemed a likely target. Bo’s fate is not unprecedented, as Michael Forsythe wrote at Bloomberg News:

Bo’s is not the first case of a Politburo member to be referred to the criminal justice system. Former Beijing party chief Chen Xitong was imprisoned for corruption following his 1995 Politburo expulsion and former Shanghai party boss Chen Liangyu was sentenced to 18 years in prison in 2008 for taking bribes after he was expelled from the Politburo in 2006.

Chen was replaced in Shanghai by Xi Jinping, the current vice president, who is forecast to take over the top party and government positions within the next year.

The news about Bo was released on Friday evening at the start of the week-long National Day holiday, and announced with a cursory recitation of Xinhua’s report in the number two slot on the Xinwen Lianbo evening news. Top billing went to the 18th Party Congress start date: at The Wall Street Journal, Jeremy Page commented on the timing of these two major stories

The twin announcements from the state-run Xinhua news agency indicate that party chieftains have likely reached broad agreement on who should run the country for the next 10 years. Internal differences over how to handle the Bo case are widely believed to have delayed an announcement on when the leadership change would begin. […]

[…] By unveiling the accusations against Mr. Bo at the same time as the announcement of the beginning of the leadership change, party officials appear to be trying to send a signal to the country regarding corruption, the abuse of power and the decadent lifestyles of many within the party elite—issues that have inflamed national public opinion. It also serves as an acknowledgment that the issues have become a direct challenge to the party’s hold on power.

For background on the case, see past coverage on CDT, and also The Bo Xilai Scandal: Power, Death, and Politics in China, a $1.33 Kindle ebook by The Financial Times’ Jamil Anderlini.

Updated at 06:01 PST: China Real Time’s Josh Chin has rounded up some initial reactions from Sina Weibo, including the following:

Liu Chun, vice president of web portal Sohu: How is that all I care about is the last line [about the women], that all I can think of is gossip? Could it be that there are some people I know who are a part of it?

Lei Yi, historian: What we should be thinking about is how, at every step along the road, he was violating discipline. How did he climb so high? We should consider problems with the system.

Sisi2008’s World: Before every leadership change, some big official takes a fall. I don’t know what this says.

DarrenLIU (censored): Inappropriate sexual relations with multiple women. Damn. That’s not the sexual problem most Chinese officials have.

On Twitter, meanwhile, Liu Xiaoyuan weighed in (via TIME’s Austin Ramzy):

At the Associated Press, Christopher Bodeen presented a range of views on the political motives behind Bo’s toppling:

“They want to drive a stake through the heart of his political career, and make it absolutely impossible, not only for him to reappear but for anyone else who has that idea of trying to create that sort of personalized, political, charismatic leadership in some part of China which may challenge the leadership,” Rana Mitter, professor of Chinese history and politics at Oxford University.

[…] Bo’s supporters called the Politburo decision a political tactic. “I have doubts on any criminal wrongdoings of Bo Xilai. I need to see the evidence,” said Han Deqiang, an economics professor at Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics and a leading voice in what Chinese call the new left. “I think this is a political battle turned into a criminal one.”

[…] “This announcement is long overdue. This means there is some progress in the rule of law in China. There is more transparency,” said Li Zhuang, a formidable defense lawyer who found himself jailed in Chongqing after he accused police of extracting his client’s confession by torture. “Of course it is also political. In China, politics and law often go hand in hand.”

Updated at 14:36 PST: Edward Wong at the New York Times weighs in with more about the accusations against Bo:

The most serious accusations against Mr. Bo appeared to be those relating to bribes and the Heywood murder, though no details were given. Ms. Gu was also accused of taking bribes. One Chongqing resident with government ties said officials had learned of the decision in afternoon meetings in that city; at one session, the attendees were told that Mr. Bo had taken several million renminbi in bribes and Ms. Gu had taken more than 20 million renminbi, or $3 million.

The Xinhua report also said Mr. Bo had violated party discipline for many years, starting with posts in the city of Dalian and Liaoning Province, continuing during a stint as commerce minister and extending through his four-year governance of Chongqing, where he was known for a so-called anticorruption crackdown and a revival of Mao-era patriotic songs through public singalongs.

The report also said investigators found Mr. Bo “had or maintained inappropriate sexual relationships with a number of women,” but did not give names. That line did not appear to be referring to potential criminal charges, but instead read like an attempt to soil the reputation of Mr. Bo in the eyes of ordinary Chinese. Officials in Chongqing were also told of Mr. Bo’s improper relationships, as well as those of Wang Lijun, a former police chief, and Wu Wenkang, another Bo associate in the government, said the resident, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of a fear of official reprisal.

The public airing of such serious and sordid charges showed that party leaders had reached agreement that Mr. Bo had to be dealt with severely.

Meanwhile on Sina Weibo, netizens seemed especially taken with one particular accusation: