JINAN, China — A Chinese court convicted Bo Xilai of corruption Sunday and gave him a stern sentence of life in prison, capping a 20-month scandal that derailed one of China's most up-and-coming politicians while exposing a murder and illicit enrichment among the country's elite.
The former Politburo member and Chongqing city party leader was convicted of bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power in a case set in motion by his wife's poisoning of a British business associate, but also widely regarded in China as a prosecution that was carried forward because the charismatic populist had lost support among top leaders.
In a marked departure from other recent politically charged trials, which are typically understood to be closely choreographed proceedings, Bo launched an unusually vigorous defense during his trial last month. He denied all charges and blamed the corruption on others in his inner circle, thus forgoing the opportunity to earn leniency as is customarily given in Chinese courts when a defendant expresses contrition.
Bo also became the highest-level politician convicted for corruption under China's leader Xi Jinping, who has staked his reputation on combatting graft within the Communist Party.
"I think the point is that Xi wanted to punish Bo Xilai for daring to go against the party's arrangements," said Willy Lam, an expert on party politics at Chinese University in Hong Kong. "He was punished for his disobedience and defiance."
According to details of Sunday's proceedings released by the court in Twitter-like posts, Bo was escorted into the courtroom by marshals and stood to listen as the judge read out the lengthy verdict. He had crew-cut hair and wore a white shirt and black pants.
The court sentenced Bo to life in prison on the bribery charges, 15 years for embezzlement and seven years for abuse of power.
The court rejected Bo's defense that he did not know about the $3.5 million in bribes from two business associates in the form of extensive valuable gifts to his family — including a French villa, expenses-paid trips, an electric scooter and fancy delicacies such as abalone. However, the court said a small portion of the bribes alleged by prosecutors, of about $160,000 were not proven in court.
The trial proceedings had been publicized through partial transcripts that gave a measure of legitimacy to a trial seen by many observers to have a foregone conclusion of guilt and predetermined sentence because of the Communist Party leadership's control over the court system.
"This is a big victory for Xi Jinping's leadership, because you cannot say this is a secretive trial. It is at least a semi-open trial," said Li Cheng, an expert of elite politics at Brookings Institute. "Bo's political career is zero, and the trial really transformed Bo from a charismatic leader to a self-indulging person."
Bo's downfall was set in motion in February 2012 when his former top aide attempted to defect to a U.S. consulate with information about his wife's murder of British businessman Neil Heywood. Prosecutors later accused Bo of interfering with the investigation into the murder, as well as unrelated corruption uncovered by investigators.
Bo's wife, Gu Kailai, confessed to the murder and was handed a suspended death sentence last year that will likely be commuted to life imprisonment.