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China court upholds life sentence for Bo Xilai

Former China's Chongqing Municipality Communist Party Secretary Bo Xilai pauses as he attends a plenary meeting of China's parliament, the N
Former China's Chongqing Municipality Communist Party Secretary Bo Xilai pauses as he attends a plenary meeting of China's parliament, the N

By Michael Martina

JINAN, China (Reuters) - A court in eastern China rejected an appeal by ousted senior politician Bo Xilai on Friday and, as expected, upheld his life sentence on charges of bribery, corruption and abuse of power.

It said the evidence against him was clear.

Bo, once a rising star in China's leadership circles who had cultivated a following through his populist, quasi-Maoist policies, was jailed for life in September after a dramatic fall from grace that shook the ruling Communist Party.

His career was stopped short last year by a murder scandal in which his wife, Gu Kailai, was convicted of poisoning a British businessman, Neil Heywood, who had been a family friend.

The high court Jinan in the eastern province of Shandong, where Bo was originally tried, said that it was satisfied the first trial had done justice in the case.

"This court verified the facts and evidence of the court of first instance," Shandong high court spokesman Hou Jianjun told a news conference.

"The reasons for appeal presented by Bo Xilai and the opinions of his counsel did not have factual and legal basis, and were not tenable."

The court "ruled to reject the appeal, and uphold the original judgment", Hou added. "The above ruling is the final judgment."

Bo's appeal against the guilty verdict was unlikely to have been successful. China's courts are controlled by the Communist Party, which had pronounced him guilty long ago.

He likely now has no further recourse to appeal, state media said, as he could only take his case to the Supreme Court in Beijing if he had been sentenced to death.

State television shows pictures of an apparently healthy Bo, with a slight smile on his face, both sitting and standing in court, and also of him being led out of the room by two towering policemen.

Bo will now be sent back to Qincheng jail, just north of Beijing, where fallen members of the elite are incarcerated, and will likely never be seen in public again, although he could be released on medical parole some day.

Hou said that four members of Bo's family had been in court, and that the hearing had been conducted with "normal order".

President Xi Jinping, who took office in March, will have wanted the Bo affair settled because the next few weeks are critical for his government.

At a party plenum next month, Xi will push for more economic reforms and he needs unstinting support from the party's elite 200-member Central Committee.

DOOMED CHALLENGE

The appeal was held behind closed doors and completed less than a month after being lodged, when it could theoretically have take up to two months, or longer.

Zhang Lifan, a political commentator, said the case was never about the crimes Bo had been charged with, which were actually very light considering the serious allegations against him, for example by victims of his zealous crackdown on organized crime.

"The real significance of this is that it shows that the highest authorities are not to be challenged. Any challenge to those authorities is doomed. I think this is very clear-cut," Zhang said.

Bo, 64, who was Communist Party chief of the southwestern metropolis of Chongqing, mounted an unexpectedly fiery defense during his trial, denouncing testimony against him by his wife as the ravings of a mad woman hoping to have her own sentence reduced.

He repeatedly said that he was not guilty of any of the charges, although he admitted making some bad decisions and shaming his country by his handling of former Chongqing police chief, Wang Lijun, who first told Bo that Gu had probably murdered Heywood.

Wang, who fled to the U.S. consulate in the nearby city of Chengdu in February last year after confronting Bo with evidence that Gu was involved in the murder, was also jailed last year for covering up the crime.

The party has presented the Bo case as an example of its resolve to root out deep-seated corruption, a problem so serious Xi has warned it could threaten the party's survival.

(Writing by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Megha Rajagopalan in BEIJING; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

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