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China charges Bo Xilai with graft

Deposed politician Bo Xilai will go on trial on charges of corruption and abuse of power within weeks, wrapping up a festering scandal that China's new leaders want disposed of as they cement their authority.

Bo, 64, was a rising political star who ran the city of Chongqing until he fell from power last year in a scandal that saw his wife convicted of killing British businessman Neil Heywood. He was charged with bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power on Thursday and will stand trial in the eastern city of Jinan.

For months, Bo has been the unfinished business of China's political transition, with questions over his fate casting a shadow over the Communist Party's new leaders under Xi Jinping. Bo was believed to be backed by influential party members and was popular with residents of the city he ran, raising questions about whether the party could close ranks in deciding what to do with him.

By indicting Bo now, China's Communist Party leaders have also given themselves enough time to reach a verdict in his case before a major meeting late this year that is expected to set the country's economic course.

In China, trials of such high-level officials accused of corruption are less about legal process than they are about decisions hammered out by politicians and the party's graft investigators and announced by a court. There is usually little dispute aired during proceedings, and most of it is kept out of the public eye.

News of his prosecution signals that the Communist Party leadership has reached a general agreement about how to handle Bo.

A report by a Beijing-backed Hong Kong newspaper, the Ta Kung Pao, said Bo was accused of bribery and embezzlement amounting to 25 million yuan (£2.6 million). He could face a prison sentence of around 15 to 20 years.

The scandal began to unfold early last year when a close aide of Bo's fled to a US consulate and disclosed Bo's wife's murder of Neil Heywood. Bo was ousted in the spring and dropped from public view. He was expelled from the party in September and accused of massive corruption, illicit sexual affairs and abetting the cover-up of a murder by his wife.

The government appears keen to use its handling of the case to bolster Xi's promises that an anti-corruption campaign he's championed will target both low-level and high-level officials equally. An editorial issued today by the official China News Service reinforced the message that no official was above the law.

Bo's indictment "tells the whole party and the entire society that in a country ruled by law," it said. "No matter who you are, no matter how high your ranking is, you will be seriously investigated and severely punished if you violate party discipline and state law."

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