Bo Xilai, the maverick Chinese leader, has been sentenced to life imprisonment for taking millions of pounds in bribes, embezzling public money and trying to cover up the murder of the British businessman Neil Heywood.
A court in the eastern city of Jinan ruled that the 64 year-old had "gravely damaged the country and the people's interests" and had committed "serious crimes". He was given a life sentence for corruption, 15 years for embezzlement and seven years for abuse of power, all to run concurrently. Mr Bo, a former Communist Party chief in the south-western city of Chongqing, was also stripped of his "political rights", losing his ability to vote and hold office, and his right to freedom of speech. The sentence doused any remaining political ambition for Bo, at least under a Communist government.
Just over 2 million pounds of the Bo family's assets was confiscated by the court, including a villa in the south of France that proved a key plank in the corruption case against him. After the presiding judge, Wang Xuguang, finished reading the verdict, Bo was handcuffed and led away.
Photographs tweeted by the court showed him standing calmly in a white shirt and black trousers, flanked by two towering policemen. Outside the court, a heavy police presence prevented any repeat of the protests that broke out during Bo's trial at the end of last month. Since his crimes were not violent, Mr Bo will be eligible for parole after 13 years and can apply to have his sentence reduced after two years.
The Chinese media suggested that Bo would be transferred to Qincheng prison outside Beijing, where the VIP wing houses his former police chief, Wang Lijun, and the former railways minister, Liu Zhijun. Bo's wife, Gu Kailai, is serving a suspended death sentence at Yancheng prison in Hebei province for Heywood's murder.
At Qincheng, Bo can expect to serve his time in a 200 sq ft cell, with a window and a lavatory, and will not be required to wear prison fatigues. "He will have milk for breakfast, two dishes and one soup for both lunch and dinner," wrote the Sina web portal. One Beijing lawyer suggested that Bo was more likely to be transferred to house arrest in a private facility. Bo did not immediately lodge an appeal to the sentence in court, but several media reports suggested that he may do so in the next 10 days. Three of Bo's family members were in court to witness the verdict, as well as He Zhengsheng, a lawyer representing the family of Neil Heywood. He did not respond to questions over whether Heywood's family had agreed a compensation deal over his death.
Bo remained defiant throughout his five-day trial, but the court rejected his claim that evidence had been extracted from him under duress. "Testimonies made by the defendant when suffering from physical and mental torture should be ruled out, but the pressure Bo Xilai was under when he made his confessions does not fit that description," the court ruled. It also rejected a demand from Bo's lawyers to disregard the evidence of his wife because of her mental instability.
"After Gu Kailai was arrested in March 2012, she had no further access to the psychoactive drugs [which had caused her mental problems]. When she answered questions on the video her language was fluent and natural," the court said. Instead, it upheld almost all of the prosecution case, only granting Bo two small triumphs. The judges agreed that withdrawals from a joint safety deposit box by Gu could not be linked to bribes received by Bo. And they noted that 1.34 million yuan of flight tickets for Bo's wife and son could not be proved to have been elicited from Xu Ming, a billionaire friend. The verdict was not unexpected.
Before his day in court, the Communist Party had already judged that "the Bo family accepted a huge amount of money and property from others". Despite the cut and thrust of Bo's trial, the three judges in Jinan were never likely to have contradicted the party line.
Nevertheless, the rare transparency of the trial, including television footage on China Central Television of Bo contradicting his accusers, showed how much the party wanted to convince the public that Bo had been offered a fair hearing. "I am satisfied with the sentence, but I'm not satisfied with the fact that the sins that Bo Xilai committed in Chongqing were not mentioned at all in court," said Li Zhuang, a lawyer imprisoned by Bo. "What he did in Chongqing was the greater sin. Countless people died and countless businesses were shut down."