China strips disgraced politician Bo Xilai of his last official position

 

China stripped disgraced politician Bo Xilai of his last official position today, formally expelling him from the country's top legislature and setting the stage for criminal proceedings against him.

The National People's Congress Standing Committee meeting in Beijing approved a decision to remove Bo as a deputy.

It was largely a formality since Bo was purged from the Communist Party late last month.

But his expulsion from the National People's Congress is key to moving ahead with a criminal case involving accusations of corruption and obstruction of justice in the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood.

Communist Party leaders are keen to resolve the country's messiest political scandal in decades as they prepare for next month's once-in-a-decade transition of power to the next generation of leaders.

As the most powerful official in the south-western megacity of Chongqing, Bo had been a rising political star and his toppling exposed sharp infighting in the party's uppermost ranks.

Bo's downfall has been spectacular: His wife, Gu Kailai, was convicted of murdering Mr Heywood, 41, and his former right-hand man was accused of taking bribes, abusing power and trying to defect to the United States, among other crimes.

Beijing lawyer Li Xiaolin said Bo's wife's family has hired him and Shen Zhigeng to defend Bo, but the two lawyers are not formally accredited by the authorities to represent him yet. They had in earlier trials sought to represent Bo's wife and a household aide accused of being an accessory to the murder, but both defendants accepted court-appointed lawyers instead.

Chinese authorities have not yet announced specific charges against Bo but in expelling him on September 28, the party accused him of offences that span more than a decade and range from taking bribes, abusing his power and having improper relationships with several women.

Bo is the first Politburo member to be removed from office in five years and the scandal raised talk of a political struggle involving Bo supporters intent on derailing succession plans calling for vice president Xi Jinping to lead the party for the next decade.

Bo's downfall was set off when his former police chief and close confidant Wang Lijun fled to the US consulate in the south-western city of Chengdu, where he revealed to diplomats details of Mr Heywood's death, which was previously called accidental.

A month later Bo was sacked as Chongqing's Communist Party secretary and suspended from the 25-member Politburo.

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