JINAN, China — Bo Xilai, the disgraced Chinese politician whose charisma and populist appeal once propelled him to the upper echelons of the Communist Party, put those attributes to full use on the second day of his corruption trial with a legal defense that was unorthodox, vigorous and dramatic.
In court Friday, Bo flattered the judge, poked holes in the prosecution’s arguments and called into question the sanity and moral character of witnesses, according to court transcripts.
But topping even those feisty maneuvers was a shocking 11-minute video of Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai — her first public appearance since her conviction last year for the murder of a British businessman.
In the video testimony, which authorities said was taped Aug. 10 and which was posted on the Jinan court microblog Friday, Gu spoke in a soft, refined voice as she described her family’s once-opulent lifestyle, allegedly funded by bribes and political connections.
Gu has been in prison since receiving a suspended death sentence after a legal process that critics have derided as a fig leaf masking deep power struggles within the party. On the poorly made video, Gu rubbed her hands in a nervous manner. Asked at one point whether she was testifying under threat or pressure, she laughed, then said no.
Her testimony, combined with that of others Friday, painted the most complete picture to date of the motivations and events that led to the death of British businessman Neil Heywood, Gu’s arrest and Bo’s ouster from the party, in which he was once a contender for membership in China’s most powerful ruling body.
Bo’s highly politicized trial was closed to all media except state-run outlets, and the couple’s testimony and other details trickled out online in strictly controlled fashion. As they had done Thursday, Chinese authorities posted lengthy transcripts, short videos and photos from the trial in a surprising and unprecedented use of social media.
According to Gu and other witnesses, the scandal was triggered by something as mundane as a bad real estate investment. The family bought the property in question — a luxury bougainvillea-clad villa overlooking the Mediterranean in Cannes, France — using alleged bribes from a Chinese billionaire businessman named Xu Ming. The villa’s ownership was concealed through shell companies to minimize taxes and hide the family’s ill-gotten wealth, Gu said.
She said she held half the shares in the holding company and gave the other half to French architect Patrick Devillers, who helped manage the property. But as Bo’s profile rose in the party, Gu said, she worried someone would find out about the villa, so she transferred her shares to Heywood, a trusted adviser at the time.
The property did not generate as much rental income as expected because of management fees and taxes, and Gu suspected Heywood and Devillers of mismanagement, according to testimony from Wang Lijun, Bo’s former right-hand man and police chief in the southwestern mega-city of Chongqing.
When Gu moved to reclaim her shares of the villa, Heywood reacted angrily and demanded $2.2 million in compensation, according to testimony from Devillers. Gu said she feared Heywood would expose the family and possibly harm her college-age son, Bo Guagua.
It was for those reasons, Gu said, that she killed Heywood, triggering the cascading events that would culminate in one of the Communist Party’s biggest crises in decades.
According to court transcripts, Gu said that her husband knew Xu had funded the property’s purchase and that Bo saw a slide show of the property in 2002 and approved the plan.
Bo, however, denied that Friday, calling Gu’s testimony “fabricated.”
“Gu Kailai has changed,” he said, saying authorities have put her under pressure. “She’s gone mad and often tells lies.”
As proof of her unhinged mind, Bo said, Gu had compared herself in the days after Heywood’s death to one of the most famous would-be assassins in Chinese history, Jing Ke, who tried to kill China’s first emperor.
Details supplied by Gu and others filled out the already damning picture of how members of China’s party elite live. According to Gu, her family dined on Dalian abalone, an expensive delicacy, and kept a safe at home filled with U.S. and Chinese currency.
For their son, the couple’s billionaire acquaintance, Xu, paid off about $55,000 in credit card debt; bought a $14,000, Segway-like vehicle; and funded a jet-setting international lifestyle, according to testimony by Xu.
After one particularly expensive trip, their son came home with a big hunk of meat from an unidentified rare African animal and presented it as a gift to his father, Gu testified. Their son said it should be eaten raw, but Bo insisted that it be steamed.
“Guagua was very angry and said it’s very expensive and would be a waste to steam it, but it was finally steamed, and Guagua peeled it piece by piece and we ate it together,” Gu said, according to the transcripts. “It was quite tasty.”
Both Thursday and Friday, Bo denied any knowledge of such gifts and bribes. His son and wife were living primarily in England at the time, he said. When he and Gu did talk, the subject of money rarely came up.
“Gu would never act so low-class in front of me,” Bo said.
The proceedings, which state media initially billed as a two-day trial, will stretch into a third day Saturday, authorities said.
Li Qi contributed to this report.