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Chinese Politician Bo Xilai Indicted On Corruption Charges


China is gearing up for what could be one of the biggest political trials in recent history. Prosecutors have just indicted Bo Xilai, one of China's most flamboyant politicians, on corruption charges. Bo was the former party boss of one of the country's biggest cities, and appeared to be ready to enter the top ranks of China's leadership. His career took a dramatic downward turn last year when the man who served under him as police chief sought asylum in the U.S. consulate in China, and Bo's wife was arrested in connection with the murder of a British businessman.

NPR's Anthony Kuhn is following developments, and joins us now. And let's begin with what the charges are against this man, precisely.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Well, the charges, Renee, are that he took about $3.3 million in bribes and embezzled another million, and he used his high-ranking position for his own gain and that of others. But this is actually when he was mayor of the Dalian - a big city in northeast China - two jobs ago. And it certainly doesn't deal with any of the big issues of his last job, when he was party boss of Chungking in southwest China. His wife's involvement in the murder case, his police chief's asylum bid at the U.S. embassy, none of this is mentioned in the case.

MONTAGNE: Well, remind us just briefly of how that all led to his downfall, the scandals that really, as it turns out, don't have anything to do with what he's being tried for.

KUHN: That's right. Well, this is really about elite politics. It's about how party members at the top are supposed to participate and rule by consensus, and Bo really did not. You know, he was very flamboyant. He cultivated popular approval and harnessed this in his bid for the leadership. He also used a huge crackdown on crime, which was in part a shakedown of local businessmen, all to further his personal ambitions. And this is the subtext of the trial that people are watching.

MONTAGNE: Now, he's not being tried in - as you say, this is two jobs back. So he's being tried in a different place than where these scandals erupted.

KUHN: That's right. You know, it's not being held in Chungking, where he was party boss, or in Dalian, where he was mayor. It's being held in a totally different province - Shandong Province in east China - because he could still have residual is the influence in places where he worked, and they don't want them using that.

MONTAGNE: So when will this trial take place, and what are the expectations for what it might be like?

KUHN: Well, there's no word yet on when the trial will be. It could be very soon. And we might have advance notice, or it might be a very a secret affair, and we might not get any notice. But one thing is for sure, and that is the government wants to keep this tightly scripted around the corruption charges, and they do not want it to touch on the political infighting.

MONTAGNE: Well, this is China so I'm guessing that that's possible to do? Or in this day and age, is it possible to keep out all the rest of the politics?

KUHN: Well, some of that may depend on Bo Xilai himself. If he reaches a deal with the authorities, then it could go according to script. If not, he could blurt out, you know, this is all political, and the whole trial could be derailed.

MONTAGNE: Well, just finally, what kind of punishment might he face if convicted?

KUHN: Well, high officials in his position very rarely face the death penalty. What experts say is 15 or 20 years in jail to life, possibly, and some form of house arrest during or after that.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Beijing correspondent Anthony Kuhn, thanks very much.

KUHN: Thank you, Renee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.