JINAN, China (AP) — Ousted Chinese politician Bo Xilai on Saturday mocked a former city official's testimony that he embezzled government funds with a phone call to his wife, denying the latest allegation in a politically charged trial that's laid bare tales of greed, machinations and betrayal in one of China's elite families.
A witness testified that Bo made a call to his wife in front of him and explicitly said he was going to funnel 5 million yuan ($800,000) in funds from a government project to their family, an account Bo called implausible.
"Is this in line with the way an embezzler would think?" Bo said of the account of the alleged event that took place 13 years ago in Dalian, where he was party chief. "Would I say something this sensitive on the phone?"
The ruling Communist Party is using the trial against Bo, a former Politburo member and party leader of the megacity of Chongqing, to cap a messy political scandal unleashed by suspicions that his wife killed a British businessman.
That scandal led to Bo's political ouster, cemented by criminal charges of interfering with a murder investigation and netting $4.3 million through corruption. Courts in China are controlled by the Communist Party so a conviction is expected, but Bo has mounted an unexpectedly spirited defense.
On Friday, Bo dismissed testimony from his wife Gu Kailai, saying she was "crazy" and a convicted killer. He disputed prosecution charges that gifts from a businessman to his family — including a French villa and plane tickets to three continents — were bribes or that he even knew about them, and denying he had provided any political favors in exchange for them.
The court's release of trial proceedings are in sharp contrast with the August 2012 conviction of Gu in the murder of a British businessman, when she pleaded guilty in daylong proceedings and scant details were released.
Bo's trial had been expected to be similarly swift, but observers say giving him a chance to defend himself helps lend a veneer of legitimacy to what is widely seen as a political show trial. The trial has focused attention on Bo's alleged economic and official misdeeds and avoided discussing the threat he posed to China's leadership in his pursuit of a seat in China's apex of power ahead of last year's leadership transition.
"The leadership wants to have a trial that's seen as fair. You can't have a completely secret trial in today's China, it would be an embarrassment," said Brookings Institution scholar Cheng Li. "Bo Xilai is taking advantage of that trial to continue to perform as he did before."
Authorities remained on high alert for any unrest that might be triggered by the trial, closely guarding a security perimeter that expanded several miles around the court Saturday, with main roads in the vicinity sealed and many shops and restaurants shut.
Inside the courtroom, Bo's defense lawyer cross-examined Wang Zhenggang, who in 2000 was an official with a land planning department in Dalian, where Bo was party boss at the time. Wang told the court he helped Bo funnel 5 million yuan in funds for a secret government project through associates of Gu, to whom Bo allegedly made that phone call. Wang is also under investigation, state media said.
The charges of bribery and embezzlement, based on the indictment's specified monetary amounts, carry penalties of between 10 years and life imprisonment, or death in severe cases, while the abuse of power charge could result in up to 7 years' imprisonment.
Courtroom revelations by the prosecution have laid bare the way that shady ties between powerful officials and businessmen can play out in China. Part of the couple's influence comes from their pedigree as the children of revolutionary veterans, a status that gives them access to important political and business networks.
Associated Press writer Didi Tang in Beijing contributed to this report.