International

Bo Xilai blames wife over embezzlement in third day of trial

Purged Chinese politician calls his estranged wife "crazy" after she gave video testimony to the court

Convicted murderer Gu Kailai offers a video and written testimony against her estranged husband, Bo Xilai. (People's Daily)

Fallen Chinese politician Bo Xilai told a court Saturday that his wife stole government funds without his involvement, describing her as “crazy” as he sought to defend himself against charges of bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power.

On the third day of what state media in China has repeatedly referred to as an “open trial,” but critics claim to be heavily scripted proceedings aimed at making an example of Bo as part of an anti-graft campaign by Beijing, the former rising star of the Communist Party said the couple had become estranged after he had an affair.

Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, had earlier testified via video that the family had received bribes, including international plane tickets, from businessman Xu Ming -- the eighth richest person in China in 2005, according to Forbes. Gu said Bo aided Xu’s purchase of the Dalian football team Wang Jianlin in 2000.

Gu was given a suspended death sentence -- tantamount to life in prison -- on August 20, 2012, after courts found her guilty of killing British business associate and former family friend Neil Heywood.

In court Saturday, Bo questioned the testimony of his wife and other evidence presented by the prosecution. State lawyers allege that in 2000 the defendant told Gu to take government funds to cover expenses relating to travel to the UK, accompanying their son who was attending school there.

But Bo said Gu had her own money, and that she took their son overseas in a fit of rage after discovering he had been unfaithful.

"She left after giving me only the courtesy of a notification," Bo said, "At the time, I had had an affair, and she was very angry. She took Bo Guagua away, largely because she felt wronged and was acting rashly."

Bo suggested that Gu could be seeking a more lenient jail term by denouncing him.

The defendant also mocked as implausible a former city official's testimony that Bo had facilitated the embezzlement of 5 million yuan ($800,000) with a phone call to his wife, while expressing remorse that he had not acted to stop the misconduct.

"I am ashamed of it. I was too careless, because this is public money," Bo told the Jinan Intermediate People's Court on the third day of his trial. "I failed to retrieve the money later, and that's a factual statement, but can you say I had the intention to embezzle the money? No."

Bo similarly questioned the testimony of Wang Zhenggang, a former official with a land planning department in the northeastern city of Dalian, where Bo was party boss at the time. Wang had testified that Bo made a call to his wife in front of him and explicitly said he was going to funnel 5 million yuan ($800,000) in funds from a government project to their family, an account Bo called implausible.

"Is this in line with the way an embezzler would think?" Bo said of the account of the alleged event that took place 13 years ago in Dalian. "Would I say something this sensitive on the phone?"

That scandal led to Bo's political ouster, cemented by criminal charges of interfering with a murder investigation and netting $4.3 million through corruption.

The charges of bribery and embezzlement, carry penalties of between 10 years and life imprisonment, or death in severe cases, while the abuse of power charge could result in up to seven years in jail.

Courts in China are controlled by the Communist Party, and a conviction is expected. But Bo has mounted an unexpectedly spirited defense.

Washington has expressed concern over judicial independence in the case.

Asked about Bo's trial, Uzra Zeya, a high-ranking State Department official, told Al Jazeera that Washington’s concerns regarding China’s perceived lack of independence of the judiciary are well-known.

Critics have called this a “heavily scripted” show trial, and Beijing’s Propaganda Department has reportedly circulated directives among the media requiring them to use only the transcripts released from the trial reported by state news agency Xinhua.

The court's release of trial proceedings are in sharp contrast with Gu’s murder trial last year, when she pleaded guilty in daylong proceedings and scant details were released.

Authorities remained on high alert for any unrest that might be triggered by the trial, closely guarding a security perimeter that expanded several miles around the court Saturday, with main roads in the vicinity sealed and many shops and restaurants shut.

The trial also began hearing allegations that Bo interfered in the investigation of the murder of the British businessman, for which Gu was convicted last August -- over a year after his detention -- and of the events surrounding his top aide's attempted defection at a U.S. consulate.

Courtroom evidence presented by the prosecution have laid bare the way that shady ties between powerful officials and businessmen can play out in China. Part of the couple's influence came from their position as children of revolutionary veterans, a status that gives them access to important political and business networks.

Massoud Hayoun contributed to this report with Al Jazeera and wire services.

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