From princeling to prisoner: Disgraced China politician is charged

Bo Xilai pictured in January Photo: Reuters

In the thick, humid air, outside a towering grey building, the only colour a Communist Party Crest, in Jinan, Eastern China; a curious crowd stands sweating and staring.

This is the court where for the first time today the Chinese public has been officially told exactly what charges the disgraced former Party boss and trade minister Bo Xilai will face: bribery, corruption and abuse of power.

The fall from so-called princeling of Chinese politics to prisoner is being portrayed as the centrepiece of the latest high profile campaign against corruption being pursued by China's new leader Xi Jinping.

The case against Bo is still surrounded by scandal and secrecy. It was the murder of Neil Heywood, a British business consultant in the Western city of Chongqing in November 2011 that rang the death knell for the career of the charismatic Bo Xilai.

Neil Heywood was found dead in his hotel room in Chongqing. Credit: Reuters

Last year Bo's wife Gu Kailai was convicted of the murder of Neil Heywood. They had been close friends. She was godmother to his children. He had helped to guide her son into expensive English private schools.

According to a company director in the UK, Heywood had been aware of Gu's attempts to get huge amounts of cash out of China, where tough currency controls exist. The theory is Neil Heywood knew too much, and became a liability when the relationship with the Bo family cooled.

Bo Xilai was on the way to becoming a member of the standing committee; the most powerful ruling group in the vast country, instead he leaves a trail of cover up and corruption as he heads for a life in the custody of the communist party, which once gave him his route to power.

Now the party is using his prosecution to prove that no one is above the law in China.

Today, state media is repeating the phraseology used earlier this year by Xi Jinping that his campaign against corruption will catch both "fly and tiger" meaning anyone from the lowest official to the very top.

Some experts challenge claims that this proves the leadership is trying to strengthen the rule of law.

No, the Bo trial will not show a new tendency to adhere to the rule of law. The contrary is closer to the mark.

Whatever Bo is to be 'found' guilty of, he will almost certainly not be executed and will spend the rest of his life in detention, whatever the formal sentence.

Under Xi Jinping, such a trial remains much too important for it to be left to judges. Not a mark of China moving closer to the rule of law.

– Professor Steve Tsang, Nottingham University

So for many the charges are the opening scenes of a show trial. The verdict, the final act, has already been scripted.