Bo Xilai, China Communist Party's rising star felled by murder, corruption scandal, defiant in court

Bo Xilai stands on trial at a court in eastern China's Shandong province
Bo Xilai stands on trial at a court in eastern China's Shandong province, Aug. 22, 2013.
AP/Jinan Intermediate People's Court

Beijing The trail of Bo Xilai, a former senior member of the Chinese Communist Party's governing Politburo charged with bribery, corruption, and abuse of power, began Thursday in China, bringing the Party's gravest scandal in more than three decades a step closer to its conclusion.

CBS News correspondent Seth Doane reports that the scandal which unfolded over the last year and a half has rocked and riveted the entire nation.

Thursday offered the public's first glimpse of Bo in almost 18 months, since the once-popular leader and rising star of the Communist Party fell from power.

Who's who in the China Bo Xilai scandal

Prosecutors claim Bo received bribes totaling about $3.5 million -- a charge that a defiant Bo has said is "completely untrue."

The disgraced politician was also charged with abuse of power and embezzlement. Prosecutors say he embezzled the equivalent of $820,000.

"The bribe... and embezzlement amounts are ridiculously low for a communist leader in a position like his," Zhang Lifan, a Beijing political analyst told CBS News. Zhang says the charges were tailor-made for Bo, and the results of the trial are all but predetermined.

"It's to make sure that Bo won't be able to cause difficulty for the leaders of this regime," he told us; and to make sure this case doesn't trigger the public to ask too many questions about how much money other leaders might be pocketing.

Gu Kailai stands in the Hefei City Intermediate Peoples Court
Gu Kailai stands in the Hefei City Intermediate Peoples Court in China's Anhui Province, Aug. 20, 2012. AP

This scandal -- and Bo's "abuse of power" charge -- stem from the 2011 murder of British businessman Neil Heywood, who had been a close business associate of the Bo family.

Bo's wife, Gu Kailai, confessed to killing Heywood. She said she killed him to protect her son. Other reports speculated it was a feud over money.

In written testimony released Thursday, Bo's wife claimed she repeatedly took tens of thousands of dollars out of a safe in their home. Bo called the allegation "ridiculous."

Foreign media were not allowed into the courtroom on Thursday, so details have been pieced together through transcripts, which are presumably edited by Chinese officials. China's courts, which are controlled by the ruling Communist Party, have a 98 percent conviction rate.

But this show still has a cliffhanger, Zhang told us.

"This is his last chance to appear in history," he said, and Bo wants to leave his mark.

China's state broadcaster, CCTV, reported that the trial was expected to last just two days, with a verdict to come in September.