High-profile Chinese politician Bo Xilai has denied the first of the allegations made against him by the government as he goes on trial for bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power.
Bo entered the courthouse under police escort in the eastern city of Jinan on Thursday, court officials said, in closely choreographed proceedings held under tight security.
Police officers were seen sealing off nearby roads with red and yellow barriers and bundling onlookers into a minivan.
As he entered the courthouse, he said that he hoped for “a fair and just trial in accordance with [Chinese] law”, reported Al Jazeera’s Harry Fawcett, who was outside the courthouse.
Once proceedings got underway, Bo denied one of the bribery charges, alleging that he had “once admitted against [his] will” while being investigated by authorities, and called testimony made by his wife that implicates him “laughable”.
Bo’s trial will last for two days and the verdict is likely to be in early September. Court spokesman Liu Yanjie said Bo was “emotionally stable and physically healthy” during the trial.
The politician became the most senior leader to fall from power in years after revelations emerged that his wife had killed a British businessman, Neil Heywood.
The scandal was triggered last year when Bo’s police chief, a top aide, fled to a US consulate in a neighbouring city last year, an event that embarrassed the party’s leadership ahead of a key political transition.
It would later emerge that the police chief had evidence of Heywood’s murder, making the Bo family an international diplomatic liability for the leadership.
Bo was charged with receiving about 21.8 million yuan ($3.56 million) in bribes from Xu Ming, a plastics-to-property entrepreneur who is a close friend and is in custody, and Tang Xiaolin, the general manager of Hong Kong-based export company Dalian International Development Ltd, the court said. He is also alleged to have embezzled 5 million yuan ($817,000) from a government project in Dalian during his tenure as mayor there.
In denying any wrongdoing in case involving Tang, Bo called the businessman “a mad dog” who wanted to “frame me out of consideration for his own interests”.
“This evidence has little to do with my criminality,” Bo said. “I was just hoodwinked. I thought it was all official business.”
Chinese authorities have released few details of the charges Bo faces, but analysts say they appear calibrated to lay blame on Bo’s individual actions and end his political career, while avoiding allegations that could expose the impunity with which top Chinese officials are believed to operate before they fall from favour.
A person with direct knowledge of the case has said Bo is accused of accepting bribes amounting to more than $3.3m and embezzling $820,000 while he was in the eastern city of Dalian.
The abuse of power allegation is related to his alleged attempts to block an investigation into the murder by his wife in late 2011 and his sacking of his police chief, reports say. [AlJazeera]