The trial and downfall of disgraced former top politician Bo Xilai

Angus Walker

Former ITV News Correspondent

China's former Chongqing Municipality Communist Party Secretary Bo Xilai Credit: REUTERS/Jason Lee

Throughout Bo Xilai's rise to political power he was known to be a showman. As the ambitious mayor of the windswept North Eastern city of Dalian, he tried to put the place on the map: with fountains, football and a special unit of female mounted police.

In Chongqing, the largest city in the world, home to 32 million people, where he was Party Secretary and a member of China's Politburo, he would ring up the city's TV station and rearrange the schedules, ordering the executives to show more 'red' Maoist themed programmes, often appearing himself.

He was certainly popular in the city he ran, and he still is, especially among the 'LaoBaiXing', the old hundred names, as China's working class is known. He fostered an image of a man of the masses, even if this trial has revealed a life of power and luxury.

During the trial the wily politician used all his theatrical tricks to devastating effect. On day one of his trial, there were sharp intakes of breath from Chinese journalists watching the live internet feed of the transcript from inside the courtroom. Bo was taking the evidence apart with colourful language, if this was a show trial, Bo hadn't read the script.

He was top of the bill and he was going to use every second he had in the spotlight to dominate the other characters. After all he hadn't been seen in public for almost a year and half, after being detained by the dreaded internal disciplinary committee of the Communist Party.

"Mad dog" he called one of the businessmen who claimed to have paid bribes to Bo. He took apart the key witness, Xu Ming, a billionaire who revealed he'd bankrolled the extravagant lifestyle of Bo's family, by getting Xu to agree in court that Bo himself never directly benefited from any payments.

Gu Kailai with husband Bo Xilai. Credit: Reuters

Bo's self defence started to take shape, he was blaming everything on his family, trying to ring-fence his own involvement. Xu Ming detailed some extraordinary payments, paying for Bo Xilai's son, Bo Gua Gua, to fly to Africa by private jet.

The chunk of meat from a 'rare' animal that they brought back from safari. Paying off a 30,000 pound credit card bill when Bo Gua Gua was 13 years old and studying at the exclusive English public school Harrow. Then there was the luxury villa in Nice.

Bo claimed he'd never been to this house and never seen it. On day two of the trial, Bo's wife gave evidence against her husband, saying he'd been linked to the murder of the British business consultant Neil Heywood, a killing that she'd been found guilty of last year.

Again Bo tried to undermine the evidence, calling his wife "mad, she always tells lies and the prosecution put her under pressure..."

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

That morning the People's Daily, the mouthpiece of the Chinese leadership, in other words Bo's former colleagues at the top of the Communist Party, condemned his courtroom fightback, calling him an "actor" and a "masterful liar" and warning that "his performance would not stop him being punished".

Bo's tactic of calling anyone giving evidence against him 'mad' appears to be a calculated attempt to discredit the bribery and corruption allegations. If he could make a laughing stock of the money laundering allegations, then Bo could make sure the political motivation for his prosecution was laid bare.

He knows there are millions on the streets of China who think he was a victim of his political rivals. A popular, charismatic figure, who became a 'strongman' threat to the established factions within the ruling central committee of the Communist Party.

On day one of the court case, crowds gathered at police road blocks, supporters shouted in support of Bo. I watched as a banner was unfurled reading: "Bo - your country needs you". It was snatched away within seconds by the police.

Bo Guagua and father Bo Xilai. Credit: Reuters

Even in a city chosen as the location for the trial because it was hundreds of miles from Bo's known power bases, in Chongqing and Dalian, he was still being held in regard.

His ability to dominate the courtroom will not have harmed his reputation among those who revered his maverick, Maoist policies.

Many of he poorest in the cities he ran benefitted from some of his political achievements including cheaper housing and a crackdown on organised crime Chinese social media showed a surge in support, which the censors, despite furious deletions, couldn't entirely airbrush away.

The state run court tried to show that this was an open and just process, and this was the first time a trial of this importance had been made relatively transparent with the live transcript feed, even if censored, it was an improvement on the secret hearings that corrupt senior Party officials often face.

The 'open' trial gave Bo, the seasoned politician, his last public platform. the 64 year old faces his life sentence hidden away either in prison or under house arrest in a state 'guesthouse', but you wouldn't bet against him reappearing one day, centre stage, taking a stand and still calling his critics 'mad'.