Politician's trial reveals secret world of China's Communist Party

Updated 11:18 PM ET

Note: Following the earlier broadcast of this piece, a Chinese court found Bo Xilai guilty and sentenced him to a life sentence in prison.

(CBS News) BEIJING - Within hours, a Chinese court is expected to hand down its verdict in the trial of Bo Xilai, the highest-ranking official to be tried for corruption in years. The trial offered a rare look into the usually secret world of the ruling Communist Party.

This trial offered the first glimpse of Bo Xilai in 18 months, since this once popular, rising star in the Communist Party fell from power. He faced charges of bribery, abuse of power, and embezzlement.

"This is a trial by the Communist Party of a senior political guy that went off the rails in their mind," said author James McGregor, who has worked in China for 25 years. He said Bo Xilai was perceived as a threat.

"He was a Western-style politician who people really liked," said McGregor, "and you don't do that in this party. This is a party of gray men who kind of hide behind the party and not their own personality."

Prosecutors charged that around $3.5 million in bribes, mostly from a wealthy businessman, were funneled through Bo's wife and son. Favors came in the form of exotic trips, pricey delicacies, and even a multi-million dollar villa in France.

Bo's political life started to come apart after the 2011 murder of a British businessman. Bo's wife, Gu Kailai, was found guilty of killing him, and Bo was charged with using his position to try to cover up the murder.

Bo's wife testified against her husband. She told stories of safes filled with cash hidden in the couples' homes.

"She probably testified against him because they told her to," said McGregor. "Remember, she still has a son, Bo Guagua, in the United States, and I imagine there's deals made that Bo Guagua would be left alone, or some assets that would not be seized."

Bo called his wife "crazy" and mounted a vigorous defense. He acknowledged mistakes in leadership but did not admit guilt.

Bo Xilai's trial was called "political theater" in China and it unfolded publicly via transcripts released on social media.

"It was tightly controlled and it was heavily edited," said McGregor, " but it was transcripts, and there was social media statements coming out one after the other from the trial. That is unprecedented. This is the most advanced used of social media by the Communist Party."

Late this week, a letter purportedly written by Bo in jail was circulated on the Internet. It said: "I will wait quietly in the prison...," "... my father was jailed many times. I will follow in his footsteps."

Bo's father, Bo Yibo, was one of the most influential communist leaders to survive the Cultural Revolution.

"You have to look at the Communist Party as a corporation run by a secret society," said McGregor. "It's like a corporation, and it's a very efficient organization. It has got talented people; it trains them, it moves them to jobs of ever-increasing responsibility, but it's very much a secret society at the core, and we're now looking at the secret society part of this in the trial."

The Communist Party, which runs China, also runs its courts. And while it's not known yet how much jail time Bo might serve, it is almost certain he'll be found guilty.

  • Seth Doane

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