Disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai has told a court 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 (£514.000) 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 city 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 ousting, cemented by criminal charges of interfering with a murder investigation and netting £2.76 million through corruption. Courts in China are controlled by the Communist Party so a conviction is expected, but Bo has mounted an unexpectedly spirited defence.
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 day-long 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.