BEIJING - Disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai continued his defense for a fourth day Sunday, calling his former right-hand man a liar in a widely watched trial that is lasting longer than expected.
Bo, 64, told the court on Sunday that former Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun "constantly lied in his testimony" and was "a person of very vile quality, who lied in court and muddied the waters." Letting Wang give evidence "tarnishes the law's credibility," he continued. Bo also acknowledged that he made mistakes in the handling of the incidents that triggered the nation's biggest political scandal in decades and brought shame on the Communist Party, but denied criminal misconduct.
Testimony concluded Sunday, and the trial will enter its fifth day Monday, when closing arguments are expected. Criminal trials in China's Communist Party-controlled courts almost always result in convictions, and are usually brief. Related trials last year of Bo's wife, Gu Kailai, convicted in the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood, and Wang were both completed within two days.
Bo faces charges of bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power that stretch across his long government and party career, from the northeast city of Dalian he helped put on the world map, to his final post running the southwestern mega-city Chongqing, scene of a murder scandal.
The trial has drawn huge interest here partly due to the court's unusual decision to release an account of the courtroom proceedings via micro-blog.The content may not be a comprehensive transcript, and it has stayed far away from the factional Beijing politics that may have brought Bo's downfall, but the evidence, testimony and cross-examinations have held many Chinese spellbound for the lurid details they expose about an elite and apparently dysfunctional family, and their luxury lifestyle. Bo admitted in court that he had an affair that angered wife Gu, who then took their son Bo Gugua abroad.
Despite's Bo's spirited defense, a guilty verdict remains likely, and could be announced next month, with estimates of the likely sentence ranging from 15 years to a suspended death sentence, which usually means life imprisonment. Execution is unlikely as the party rarely enforces capital punishment on figures as high up as Bo, a former Politburo member and son of a revolutionary elder.
The trial has defied expectations of even seasoned observers of China's law and politics.
"I was surprised by the vigor of Bo's defense, as presented by Bo himself. I'm not yet sure what to make of it," admitted Donald Clarke, a Chinese law expert at George Washington University, who still believes the outcome is "pretty much settled in advance."
If Bo's reported remarks are indeed scripted, "they're using a good scriptwriter," Clarke added.
The proceedings have been surprising, and Bo's retraction and spirited defense "have put the party leadership in a difficult position," said Randy Peerenboom, a Chinese law expert at La Trobe University Melbourne.
Despite widespread belief that Bo is corrupt, "I think there are many people who have been surprised at the poor case put on by the prosecutor so far," he said. "The leadership sought to mitigate the damage to the party's reputation by limiting the number of allegations and charges - given the reported wealth of Bo Xilai and his relatives, there would seem to be a lot more that could have been used against him," said Peerenboom.
Bo is being punished for building his own power base in Chongqing, where he built a "model" that still resonates with some Chinese, especially those on the left, said David Zweig, a Chinese politics scholar at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.
"He ran the city of Chongqing, the largest municipality in China, in a very socialist way, with public housing and trying to narrow the gap between rich and poor and between peasants and urbanites, letting farmers into the cities, and getting people to hark back to a positive view of the Cultural Revolution ... but China does not brook independent kingdoms," Zweig said.