China expected to reject Bo appeal, ending saga

This picture taken on Sept 22, 2013 and released by Jinan Intermediate People's Court shows Chinese political star Bo Xilai (second, right) wearing a pair of handcuffs as he stands in a courtroom in Jinan, east China's Shandong province. A Chinese co
This picture taken on Sept 22, 2013 and released by Jinan Intermediate People's Court shows Chinese political star Bo Xilai (second, right) wearing a pair of handcuffs as he stands in a courtroom in Jinan, east China's Shandong province. A Chinese court will likely seal Bo's fate on Friday when it rules on his appeal against a lifetime prison sentence, as authorities look to close a damaging scandal. -- FILE PHOTO: AFP

JINAN, China (AFP) - A Chinese court will likely seal fallen politician Bo Xilai's fate on Friday when it rules on his appeal against a lifetime prison sentence, as authorities look to close a damaging scandal.

The high court of Shandong province is expected to reject the appeal by Bo, who until 2012 headed the southwestern megacity of Chongqing and was one of China's highest-ranked politicians.

Chinese courts are tightly controlled by the ruling Communist party.

Security was heavy around the courthouse in the eastern city of Jinan, with dozens of police officers already stationed around it on Thursday and shopkeepers nearby told to stay closed on Friday.

Bo was handed a life sentence on charges of bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power last month, after a spectacular downfall which exposed infighting within the Communist party ahead of a once in a decade transition of power.

If the appeal fails, the courts will have no further obligation to reconsider his case and Bo is unlikely to appear in public again, lawyers said.

He was not present for the consideration of his appeal, which took place earlier this month in a "closed hearing", a lawyer with direct knowledge of the case told AFP.

Friday's court decision "will be the final verdict. After that, the process is over", the lawyer said.

According to Chinese law, Bo will not be able to lodge any further formal appeals, and while he can submit a "petition" to China's supreme court it is not required to take further action.

Analysts have said that the verdict against Bo was decided as a result of backroom bargaining between elite members of the Communist party - some of whom are still thought to be allies of his.

"I think the main chance is that they'll keep the original verdict," said Mr He Weifang, a law professor at Peking University.

"From the beginning, the verdict was not totally the court's decision... it's very likely that top leaders played a role," Mr He said.

Bo, whose father was one of Communist China's "Eight Immortals", its most prominent revolutionary leaders, was ousted last year after a lurid scandal which saw his wife convicted of the murder of a British businessman.

Bo's trial in August revealed a lifestyle far in excess of what Communist Party officials on modest salaries should be able to afford, with evidence of bribes from rich businessmen, including a close associate who bought his family a villa in France.

His defiance over the course of the hearings astonished a public unfamiliar with the open airing of top-level intrigue and was in stark contrast to previous Chinese political trials, in which most defendants have humbly confessed their crimes in opaque court proceedings.

Bo's populist policies in Chongqing won him supporters across China, but his openly ambitious approach also alienated other top party leaders, who saw it as harking back to a bygone era of strongman rule.

The verdict comes as the party attempts to show it is cracking down on corruption and government waste.