Bo Xilai, the Communist Party aristocrat who once seemed destined for the top echelon of power in China, now appears to be headed for a lengthy stint in prison after he was stripped of his party membership Friday, clearing the way for criminal prosecution.
The official Xinhua news wire reported that an internal Communist Party investigation found Mr. Bo abused his power during his rise through the ranks, took "huge bribes" and played an unspecified role in the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood in November, 2011. For good measure, Xinhua threw in that Mr. Bo "had affairs and maintained improper sexual relationships with a number of women."
For a politician who was the face of the surging left wing of the Communist Party – before the eruption of China's biggest recent political scandal – it was a denunciation reminiscent of Mao Zedong's era. Badly weakened, Mr. Bo's political allies were not able to protect him from prosecution, a result that suggests reformists within the party are in ascendance ahead of a critical power transfer this November.
When he was on the rise, Mr. Bo bombarded citizens of Chongqing – the Yangtze River city where he was party chief – with text messages of his favourite Mao quotations and encouraged the mass singing of "red" songs from the Cultural Revolution. The 63-year-old also led a ruthless crackdown on crime and spoke of the need to address China's growing gap between rich and poor.
It's not clear when Mr. Bo will face trial, but his conviction is a foregone conclusion now that the party leadership has ruled on the matter. The judgment on Mr. Bo came following a meeting of the 24-person Politburo that was chaired by President Hu Jintao.
Many in China believe the case is less about Mr. Bo's alleged misdeeds – the Communist Party of China has forgiven and forgotten far greater crimes – than it is about what he stood for. By throwing the book at him, they have buried not just Mr. Bo, but his ideas, sending a message to his supporters that China is not planning a leftward turn.
"Bo intended to undo the reform … pulling China back to Mao's time. He wanted to be Bo Zedong," said Xin Ziling, a retired People's Liberation Army colonel who has fought to convince China's leadership to address the crimes of the Mao era. "Because the Central Committee was able to unify and firmly punish Bo, it extinguished a huge secret trouble."
Mr. Bo made it easy on those who sought to destroy him. His downfall was instigated by former Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun, who told his boss in January that he believed Mr. Bo's wife, Gu Kailai, had killed businessman Mr. Heywood. Mr. Bo is said to have responded by slapping his police chief in the face. Mr. Wang, fearing for his life, fled to the United States consulate in the nearby city of Chengdu, where he tried to defect.
Though the American diplomats rejected Mr. Wang, he has since co-operated with Chinese police in exposing a tawdry trail of corruption that has allegedly followed Mr. Bo throughout his political career, including his previous posts as national Minister of Commerce and mayor of the northeastern port city of Dalian.
Mr. Wang was sentenced on Monday to 15 years in prison for bribe-taking, abuse of power and attempting to defect. In August, Ms. Gu pleaded guilty to poisoning Mr. Heywood after a falling out over money. She received a suspended death sentence.
"Bo's behaviours have brought serious consequences, badly undermined the reputation of the party and the country, created very negative impact at home and abroad and significantly damaged the cause of the party and people," Xinhua wrote.
The decision on Mr. Bo comes just weeks before a key meeting that will see a new generation of Chinese leaders, headed by Vice-President Xi Jinping, take power from Mr. Hu and Premier Wen Jiabao. The 10-day National Congress of the Communist Party will begin Nov. 8, Xinhua also reported Friday.
That news of Mr. Bo's purging came at the same time as the long-awaited announcement regarding the date of the national congress likely means a broad agreement has been reached between quarrelling factions over how the Communist Party should proceed through the sensitive transition period. The fate of Mr. Bo was seen as intertwined with arguments over who should be named to the incoming Standing Committee of the Politburo, the nine-member grouping that is the apex of power in the country.
Mr. Bo was once seen as a near-certainty to be named to the new Standing Committee. His elimination is seen as boosting the faction led by Mr. Hu – who broadly share a reformist mindset – vis-à-vis against that led by former president Jiang Zemin, whose loyalists are considered more conservative and statist.