Bo was a member of the Communist Party Politburo and the charismatic party chief of Chongqing city. A rising star in Chinese politics, he revived the memory of Mao Zedong, cracked down on organized crime and made no secrets of his national ambitions.
But the inner workings of his fiefdom were laid bare last year after his police chief, Wang Lijun, sensationally sought asylum in a U.S. consulate, making a series of damaging accusations about his former boss.
The scandal became a huge embarrassment to the party, exposing deep divisions among its senior leadership as well as corruption and thuggery at the top levels.
At its heart was the tale of British businessman Neil Heywood’s death, which Chinese authorities had initially tried to blame on alcohol poisoning.
Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, was convicted last year of killing Heywood in 2011 and given a suspended death sentence, while Wang was given 15 years in prison for covering up the murder.
Bo was expelled from the party last September. On Sunday, he was convicted of having accepting bribes worth $3.6 million, of embezzling more than $800,000 in state funds and of obstructing the investigation into Heywood’s death.
Speaking about Bo’s obstruction of justice in the Heywood case, Wang Xuming, the judge in Jinan, said: “It had a particularly bad influence on society and seriously damaged the interests of the nation and the people.”
Cheng Li, a China political expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington, said the sentence “matches the scale of the corruption and also his refusal to admit the charges or cooperate.”
“In Chinese law, if you do not cooperate, you will certainly be punished more severely,” he said.
Trials of this nature in China are normally carefully choreographed, with the outcome decided long in advance. But Bo had confounded expectations by pleading not guilty to the charges and mounting a spirited defense, admitting only to having made “serious misjudgments” that had shamed his country.
Although foreign journalists were barred from the proceedings, the court in Jinan took the unprecedented step of posting detailed excerpts from the five-day trial, as well as videos and photos, in a live microblog.
The government has paraded this as a symbol of its openness, yet local journalists say their reporting about the Bo affair has been subject to unusually heavy censorship this year, while the same is true for comments posted on social-media sites including Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter, before and after the verdict.