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Bo Xilai, disgraced Chinese politician, to go on trial this week

From Jaime A. FlorCruz, CNN
updated 8:58 PM EDT, Sun August 18, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Source close to Bo Xilai's family reject charges against him
  • The Chinese politician is accused of bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power
  • His wife has been convicted of murder, serving suspended death sentence

Beijing (CNN) -- The trial of Bo Xilai, a former darling of the all-powerful Communist Party, will begin Thursday, China's state-run Xinhua news agency said.

Authorities claim Bo abused his official state position to seek financial benefits, resulting in "huge losses to the nation and the people."

He is charged with bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power, the Jinan Intermediate People's Court said Sunday.

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A source close to the Bo family for decades said this month the claims are "ridiculous."

"The charges go way back when Bo was in Dalian," the source said. "That's more than 20 years ago. So they cannot find anything more recent?"

The trial begins another chapter in a gripping tale of murder, betrayal and political factionalism. It caps the biggest political scandal to hit China in decades.

READ MORE: Bo Xilai indicted for corruption

Until March 2012, the charismatic, populist leader was a member of the policy-making politburo of the Communist Party and party chief of Chongqing, a megacity in southwestern China.

Bo, 64, is currently in detention. He has not been seen in public since news of the scandal emerged, and he was stripped of his role as Chongqing party chief and later his prestigious politburo post.

TIMELINE: Bo's fall from grace

According to the indictment documents, as a civil servant he took advantage of his position to seek profit from others and accepted an extremely large amount of money and properties, Xinhua reported. The documents don't quantify the amount of bribes allegedly accepted, but published reports say it could be as much as 20 million yuan ($3.3 million).

What are the allegations about?

Concrete details are not forthcoming. Bo's lawyer did not respond to request for comments, but sources close to Bo who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case, gave CNN their thoughts on how he is preparing to defend himself.

The accusations, according to those sources, may be linked to the case of Xu Ming, a multi-millionaire entrepreneur who owned several companies in Dalian, a bustling port city in eastern China where Bo Xilai served as mayor for nearly nine years.

Xu has not been seen for more than a year and is believed to be under detention for alleged corruption.

The sources believe that, of the 20 million yuan in alleged bribes, 16 million ($2.6 million) may be related to the purchase of a house in Nice, France that Xu bought some years ago. Prosecutors may allege that Xu gave the house to Bo's wife and son.

"The Bo family says they are aware that Xu bought such a house, but they have no connection with its purchase and ownership. It's believed to be an old house that Xu may have bought as an investment or for use as vacation house," one source said.

READ MORE: Bo's wife convicted of murder

What punishment awaits Bo?

China's legal system gives much discretion and flexibility to the local courts in imposing punishment.

For the same charge of bribery, for example, Zheng Xiaoyu, former head of the State Food and Drug Administration, was convicted in 2007 of taking more than six million yuan (about $1 million) in bribes. He was sentenced to death and executed later that year.

In 2009, however, Chen Tonghai, former chairman of Chinese oil giant Sinopec, was convicted of taking 196 million yuan ($31 million) in bribes. He was given a suspended death sentence.

Family sources say while they worry for his life, they want Bo to be "strong-willed."

"We hope he will not fall for any offers of compromise or blackmail, like if you co-operate we will leave your son out of this, or will give you and your wife leniency."

READ MORE: Bo's son submits statement in mother's defense

They are also concerned about the in-fighting at the top leadership and its impact on how Bo's case will be settled. "Although Bo may not be sentenced to death, we still worry," the sources said.

"It is also far from over for (Bo's wife) Gu Kailai, who is serving suspended sentence. They still hold much leverage."

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