By Frank Ching
The five-day trial of fallen Chinese superstar Bo Xilai, which the Communist authorities hoped would demonstrate their determination to target tigers rather than just swat flies in their anti-corruption campaign, also had a second goal: to show that the country is marching forward toward the rule of law. Unfortunately, to this observer at least, the carefully staged show was a flop. For one thing, as far as the US$3.5 million bribery charge was concerned, it turns out from the testimony of Gu Kailai, Bo’s wife, that at least US$3 million of that was accounted for by a villa in France bought for her by Chinese businessman Xu Ming.
In fact, as her own evidence makes clear, she left Bo seven or eight years ago to go abroad with their son, Guagua (apparently because of his infidelity). Her husband was largely ignorant of what favors were being showered on her. Gu Kailai was convicted last year of the murder of a British businessman, Neil Heywood, and given a suspended death sentence. Presumably, she is eager to say whatever will please the government to ensure that she will not be executed. Surely, in many jurisdictions, such testimony will be discredited. While willing to link her husband to money that she had accepted, she declined to appear in court to be cross-examined. Similarly, Tang Xiaolin, former general manager of Hong Kong-based Dalian International Development Ltd., who made very damning accusations against Bo — his benefactor for many years — refused to appear in court to be cross-examined. When Bo called Tang a “crazy dog,” the judge properly intervened and warned him not to make defamatory comments. However, the Chinese legal system evidently allows witnesses such as Gu Kailai and Tang Xiaolin to make grave allegations against a defendant and not allow the defendant a chance to face his accusers.
During the trial, Bo Xilai strongly and repeatedly denied having received money from Tang though he acknowledged that, while being investigated by the party, “I admitted against my will taking three bribes from Tang Xiaolin.” Suspects in the party’s “shuanggui” system are under tremendous pressure to confess. However, once a case has been transferred to the state, the prosecution should gather its own evidence rather than rely on a confession obtained under duress. In this case, it appears, the prosecution was content to make use of confessions obtained under duress and present that as evidence. Using statements by a convicted criminal, such as Gu Kailai, and a defendant in another trial, such as Tang Xiaolin, is similarly unsatisfactory. Surely, in a major bribery case such as this, there should be a paper trail linking the defendant to assets that he is accused of having corruptly acquired. But no such trail was presented. Reference was made to a safe in Bo Xilai’s home, used only by him and his wife. Were there large amounts of cash found there that could not be accounted for? We don’t know.