Bo Xilai trial: Was Bo's dramatic turn in court part of the show?

Disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai speaks during a court hearing in Jinan, Shandong province on Aug 22, 2013 in this still image taken from video. Bo denied one of the bribery charges against him on Thursday as he appeared in public for the first
Disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai speaks during a court hearing in Jinan, Shandong province on Aug 22, 2013 in this still image taken from video. Bo denied one of the bribery charges against him on Thursday as he appeared in public for the first time in more than a year to face China's most political trial in over three decades.-- PHOTO: RETUERS

BEFORE he fell from grace, ex-Chongqing party boss Bo Xilai was easily the most flamboyant figure in mainland Chinese politics.

Bo stuck to form when he appeared in a Jinan court on Thursday to answer charges of corruption and abuse of power.

Not only did he refute a bribery charge - one of three offences he is accused of - Bo also mounted a feisty defence using strong, colourful language.

For instance, he lambasted the testimony of a key witness Tang Xiaolin as "the ugly performance of a person selling his soul".

Bo also dismissed as "comical and laughable" a written testimony that the prosecutors obtained from his wife Gu Kailai.

But some analysts suggest that Bo's dramatic turn in court could be a choreographed move.

Wuhan-based legal professor Qin Qianhong told The Straits Times that Bo likely agreed to this in exchange for a lighter sentence and for his son to be left alone.

"They may have made a pact to make the public believe that the trial is not stage-managed and that China's rule of law is being upheld," said Prof Qin of the Wuhan University's law school.

He also believes that the prosecution implicated Bo's son, Guagua, for the same aim of debunking suspicions of a staged trial.

Prosecutors said the entire family - Bo, wife Gu Kailai, and son - had taken bribes totalling 21.8 million yuan from Dalian Shide group boss Xu Ming and Tang, the general manager of Dalian International Development Company.

Prof Qin thinks it is unlikely the Communist Party would go after the younger Bo, who is studying in the United States and has so far been left out of the case.

"They may deem it more useful to keep Bo's son as a bargaining chip to rein in the Bo family and his supporters from stirring up more trouble in the future," added Prof Qin.

However, it may be hard to convince the public, who is more prone to believe that a guilty verdict for Bo is a foregone conclusion as a victim of a political struggle within the Communist Party.

Most also believe that the trial's outcome was already negotiated beforehand, given the less severe charges that Bo is facing.

He is accused of taking bribes and embezzling funds totalling 25 million yuan, and also abuse of power in covering his wife's murder of British businessman Neil Heywood in November 2011.

Said Hong Kong-based analyst Willy Lam: "The deal is that Bo is being charged with only a small portion of his 'offences' - a relatively small sum of 25 million yuan, even though his assets are much much bigger."

He added that there are no reference to Bo's alleged crime in pocketing the wealth of the triad-businessmen in Chongqing or a "plot" to usurp Communist Party chief Xi Jinping's rise to the top job last year.

kianbeng@sph.com.sg