China politician Bo appoints lawyers for trial

BEIJING (AFP) - Disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai has appointed two defence lawyers to represent him at his future trial on bribery and other charges, the attorneys' staff said today.

The appointments are a crucial step ahead of a criminal trial for Bo, whose downfall was one of the biggest scandals to hit the ruling Communist Party in decades and exposed deep divisions in the top leadership.

Bo requested that Li Guifang and Wang Zhaofeng, both partners at the Deheng Law Offices in Beijing, represent him at his trial, the lawyers' secretaries confirmed to reporters.

"(Li) is Bo Xilai's lawyer, appointed by family members and Bo himself," Li's secretary said. Wang's secretary repeated a similar statement from Wang.

The appointments had been made with the agreement of members of Bo's family "during the last one or two months", Wang's secretary said.

The secretaries said they had no information about a date or location for the trial.

Bo used to be the party chief of the south-western metropolis of Chongqing and a member of the Communist Party's 25-member Politburo, and had been tipped to rise to the Politburo Standing Committee, China's highest executive body.

But he fell from grace after his police chief and right-hand man in Chongqing fled to a US consulate following the death of Neil Heywood, a British businessman, reportedly to seek asylum.

He has not been seen in public since last spring and his exact whereabouts are unknown.

Bo's wife Gu Kailai was later convicted of Heywood's murder and given a suspended death sentence, typically commuted to life in prison.

The ruling Communist Party first placed Bo under internal investigation, and turned his case over to criminal authorities after discovering evidence of bribery and abuse of power, the official news agency Xinhua said in October.