Disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai told a court Saturday his wife stole government funds without his involvement and revealed how the couple became estranged after he had been unfaithful, offering a glimpse in his politically charged trial of the unraveling of one of China's elite families.
Bo also mocked as implausible a former city official's testimony that Bo had facilitated the embezzlement of 5 million yuan ($800,000) with a phone call to his wife, while expressing remorse that he had not acted to stop the misconduct.
"I am ashamed of it. I was too careless, because this is public money," Bo told the Jinan Intermediate People's Court. "I failed to retrieve the money later, and that's a factual statement, but can you say I had the intention to embezzle the money? No."
The ruling Communist Party is using the trial against Bo, a former Politburo member and party leader of the megacity of Chongqing, to cap a messy political scandal unleashed by suspicions that his wife killed a British businessman.
That scandal led to Bo's political ouster, cemented by criminal charges of interfering with a murder investigation and netting $4.3 million through corruption. Courts in China are controlled by the Communist Party so a conviction is expected, but Bo has mounted an unexpectedly spirited defense.
The court's release of trial proceedings are in sharp contrast with the August 2012 conviction of Gu in the murder of a British businessman, when she pleaded guilty in daylong proceedings and scant details were released.
Bo's trial had been expected to be similarly swift, but observers say giving him a chance to defend himself helps lend a veneer of legitimacy to what is widely seen as a political show trial. The trial has focused attention on Bo's alleged economic and official misdeeds and avoided discussing the threat he posed to China's leadership in his pursuit of a seat in China's apex of power ahead of last year's leadership transition.
"The leadership wants to have a trial that's seen as fair. You can't have a completely secret trial in today's China, it would be an embarrassment," said Brookings Institution scholar Cheng Li. "Bo Xilai is taking advantage of that trial to continue to perform as he did before."
Authorities remained on high alert for any unrest that might be triggered by the trial, closely guarding a security perimeter that expanded several miles around the court Saturday, with main roads in the vicinity sealed and many shops and restaurants shut.
Inside the courtroom, Bo questioned the testimonies of his wife Gu Kailai and others that prosecutors presented, that in 2000 he had told Gu to take the government funds to cover the expenses of accompanying their son in Britain while he attended middle school. Bo said that Gu had piles of her own money, and that she had taken their son overseas in a fit of rage after he had been unfaithful.
"She left after giving me only the courtesy of a notification," Bo said. "At the time, I had had an affair, and she was very angry. She took Bo Guagua away, largely because she felt wronged and was acting rashly."
It was the third day of a trial that in which Bo had earlier similarly dismissed testimony from his wife, saying she was "crazy," He said Gu, a convicted killer serving a suspended death sentence, could be seeking a more lenient jail term by denouncing him.
Bo similarly questioned the testimony of Wang Zhenggang, who was then an official with a land planning department in Dalian, where Bo was party boss at the time. Wang had testified that Bo made a call to his wife in front of him and explicitly said he was going to funnel 5 million yuan ($800,000) in funds from a government project to their family, an account Bo called implausible.
"Is this in line with the way an embezzler would think?" Bo said of the account of the alleged event that took place 13 years ago in Dalian. "Would I say something this sensitive on the phone?"
Prosecutors have also charged that he accepted bribes from businessmen in the form of money or gifts to his family — including a villa in Nice, France, and plane tickets to three continents — in exchange for political favors.
The charges of bribery and embezzlement, based on the indictment's specified monetary amounts, carry penalties of between 10 years and life imprisonment, or death in severe cases, while the abuse of power charge could result in up to 7 years' imprisonment.
The trial on Saturday also began hearing allegations that Bo interfered in the investigation of the murder of a British businessman, for which Gu was convicted of in August 2012, and of the events surrounding his top aide's attempted defection at a U.S. consulate.
Courtroom revelations by the prosecution have laid bare the way that shady ties between powerful officials and businessmen can play out in China. Part of the couple's influence comes from their pedigree as the children of revolutionary veterans, a status that gives them access to important political and business networks.
Associated Press writer Didi Tang in Beijing contributed to this report.