One-time Chinese political star Bo Xilai gets life in prison

Bo Xilai, one-time rising star of China's Communist Party, was sentenced Sunday to life in prison and deprived of his political rights forever in the country's most high-profile corruption trial in decades.

The Jinan Intermediate People's Court in east China's Shandong Province also ordered that all his personal assets be seized after finding him guilty of corruption, embezzlement and abuse of power.

Bo, a former member of the Political Bureau of the party's Central Committee, was found guilty of taking a total of 20.45 million yuan (around $3.34 million) in bribes, embezzling 5 million yuan in public funds and abusing his power by interfering with the investigation into his wife's murder of British businessman Neil Heywood in November 2011.

Bo, 64, had been tipped for membership of China's most powerful political body, the party's Politburo Standing Committee, ahead of the country's once-in-a-decade leadership transition last fall.

During his five-day trial last month, Bo, who was the party chief of the southwestern city of Chongqing until his downfall in March 2012, denied all the charges against him and recanted his prior confessions of guilt.

But the court, which said Bo caused "huge damage to the country and its people," convicted him of all the charges, sentencing him to life in prison for bribe-taking, 15 years for embezzlement and seven years for abuse of power.

Bo, who stood to hear the verdict at the court wearing a white shirt and black trousers, could appeal against the ruling. But an appeal is unlikely to succeed given that Chinese courts are controlled by the Communist Party.

The court, in an unprecedented display of openness, released some transcripts and photos of the trial proceedings on its Twitter-like Sina Weibo microblog account.

The scandal that has roiled the ruling party came to light after Bo's estranged right hand-man and former Chongqing police head Wang Lijun suddenly fled to the U.S. consulate in nearby Chengdu in February 2012 and revelations that his wife had murdered the British businessman.

For the new leadership led by President Xi Jinping, who has promised to crack down on corrupt officials, Bo's case has been delicate to handle partly because his left-leaning social welfare policies won much popular support, amid widening income gaps in the country.

"I still like Mr. Bo because Chongqing was very safe and I could walk alone in the night, when he was here," said Han Ling, a 26-year-old sales clerk. "But that's no longer the case anymore."

The closely-watched ruling serves as a prelude to the third plenary session of the party's Central Committee in November, where Xi is expected to demonstrate his resolve to fight against corruption and carry out economic reforms.

Xia Yeliang, a pro-democracy Chinese economics professor at Peking University, said the sentence was heavier than expected, probably due to Bo's defiant attitude during the proceedings.

Xia told Kyodo News he believes the new leadership decided to hold Bo criminally accountable "not because he was corrupted but because it felt a sense of danger over his ambitions" to rise to the summit of Chinese politics.

The professor pointed out that the trial did not reveal some of the most important elements of the case, such as whether Bo himself was involved in the Heywood murder or whether he transferred a huge sum of state assets to overseas.

"If all the facts were disclosed at the trial, people at home and abroad would learn too much about how serious a problem corruption is among Chinese officials, so I believe that important matters were covered up," he said.

Last August, Bo's wife Gu Kailai was sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve, while Wang was sentenced last September to 15 years in jail for abuse of power in connection with the businessman's murder and other crimes.

Bo, the so-called "princeling" son of a late vice premier, was the highest-ranking Chinese official to stand trial since former Shanghai party secretary Chen Liangyu in 2008, who received an 18-year prison term for corruption.