The trial of fallen politician Bo Xilai began Thursday in the eastern city of Jinan, in a highly publicized proceeding that will likely be one of China's most political trials in years.
Bo, 64 and the former head of Chongqing's Communist Party, has been charged with corruption, the abuse of power, and taking nearly $4.41 million through bribery and embezzlement — charges that he vehemently denied in court.
Bo — once a possible choice for China's presidency — currently stands accused of taking bribes from two companies, Dalian International Development and Dalian Shide Group, between 2000 and 2012.
Bo reportedly confessed to the allegations after his arrest last year, but on Thursday indicated that any admission was made under pressure.
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"Regarding the matter of [Dalian International executive] Tang Xiaolin giving me money three times, I once admitted it against my will during the [Communist Party] Central Discipline Inspection Commission's investigation against me," said Bo on the first day of the two-day trial, according to Reuters.
"[I'm] willing to bear the legal responsibilities, but at that time I did not know the circumstances of these matters: my mind was a blank," he added.
A verdict in the trial is not expected for weeks, but it is almost certain that Bo will be found guilty, and receive a hefty prison sentence.
Until Thursday, the formerly high-ranked politician had not been seen in public in 17 months. Some 110 people — including five of Bo's relatives — were allowed to enter the public area of the courthouse, says the Guardian.
Supporters of Bo, who were keen on his effort to fight crime and to revive some aspects of Maoist thought, gathered at the courtroom as well, CNN reported.
"He's not a god or perfect, but the masses supported him," one 86-year-old woman told the news channel. "They can't just condemn him to hell — I want him to have a fair trial."
No foreign media was permitted to enter the trial chamber. Reports of Bo's comments are being released through China's Xinhua news agency, and through the court's Weibo microblogging account.