Bo’s Influence “Banished” as Trial Rumors Swirl
Amid conflicting reports about the date of Bo Xilai’s trial, China’s Global Times reported on Monday that the proceedings would not start that day in Guiyang, as previously rumored. According to “a source close to the country’s top judicial body”, the start date will be announced well in advance. Due to the complexity of the case, it claimed, the trial may last up to ten days, and is unlikely to begin until after the Two Sessions of the National People’s Congress and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference in March.
On Saturday, meanwhile, the mayor of Chongqing proclaimed the “banishment” of Bo’s influence from his former power base. From Ben Blanchard at Reuters:
Speaking at the opening session of the city’s largely rubber stamp legislature, Chongqing mayor Huang Qifan, who had served with Bo when Bo was the city’s party boss, described the past year’s events as “extraordinary”.
“Against such an exceptional backdrop and complex circumstances, we resolutely followed the decisions of the party … and worked hard to banish the serious impact of the Bo Xilai and Wang Lijun cases,” Huang said, according to a transcript of his speech carried by Chinese news websites.
[…] “We must strictly define authority in accordance with the law and … never allow any group or individual to have special rights which exceed the constitution or the law,” Huang said.
Part of the exorcism has involved the rehabilitation of netizens, lawyers, policemen and others wrongly prosecuted for crossing Bo and Wang, his former police chief. Radio Free Asia reported on Friday, for example, that journalist Gao Yingpiao had been released early from a three year prison term thought to be linked to a series of critical blog posts. On the other hand, The New York Times’ Edward Wong reported that the gang behind last year’s notorious Lei Zhengfu sex tape scandal had escaped prosecution under Bo’s rule, and has only now been brought to light.
China’s state news media reported on Friday details of a sex extortion ring that brazenly operated “honey traps” in the southwest metropolis of Chongqing for several years. The widening scandal, which first emerged late last year, has led to the dismissals of at least 11 officials of the Communist Party, the government or state-owned companies for having sex with women from the ring and then being blackmailed by the men who had set up the snares.
[…] The sex scandal might have come out earlier, but Bo Xilai, the Chongqing party chief at the time, and Wang Lijun, his police chief, buried the results of an investigation into the ring, according to news reports. Mr. Bo and Mr. Wang were both felled last year by the fallout from the murder of a British business executive that the party said was arranged by Mr. Bo’s wife; Mr. Bo is expected to be tried soon on a wide range of criminal charges. While the two scandals are unrelated, the airing of the blackmail ring at this time could reflect a decision by the Chinese leadership to highlight other problems in Chongqing under Mr. Bo’s rule.
There are apparent limits to the new transparency surrounding the case, however. After receiving a sudden visit from security officers on Sunday, Zhu Ruifeng, the blogger who originally brought the Lei Zhengfu tape to light, believes that Chongqing authorities are aggressively moving to tie up loose ends. From William Wan at The Washington Post:
“They are standing outside my door right now, knocking and even kicking the door, telling me to open it,” he said in a frantic phone call to a reporter.
As he talked, men could be heard shouting in the background. “I think they’re coming to take me away,” Zhu said. “I talked to too many in the media and it must have irritated someone.”
[…] The men claimed to have come from a local Beijing security station, but Zhu suspected that they had actually come from Chongqing and that their true intent was to take him away and recover the five additional sex tapes he had threatened to release.
Just recently, a source told him Chongqing authorities had destroyed all other recordings related to the extortion case in an attempted cover-up, leaving only the video Zhu had already made public.