HONG KONG — Bo Xilai, an ambitious and divisive Chinese politician whose downfall shook the Communist Party elite, will stand trial on Thursday on charges of corruption, taking bribes and abusing power, state-run news media announced Sunday.
The brief report from the Xinhua news agency said Mr. Bo would be tried in Jinan, the capital of Shandong Province in eastern China. But the report gave no other details about the lurid allegations of corruption and a murder that toppled him and exposed bitter contention in the usually secretive Communist Party leadership.
The announcement said the trial would start Thursday morning, but did not say how long it would last.
Mr. Bo, 64, fell from power last year, upsetting preparations for a leadership transition and setting off reverberations that are still felt in Chinese politics. Accusations of skulduggery and graft around him and his family have drawn intense attention in China, and his trial is considered a test of how harshly and candidly the Communist Party elite deals with one of its own.
“Politics will determine how Bo Xilai is tried,” said Chen Ziming, a commentator in Beijing who closely follows Communist Party affairs. “How much evidence they present will depend on how severely they want to punish him, not vice versa.”
China’s courts are controlled by the Communist Party, and there is little doubt that Mr. Bo will be found guilty after a carefully choreographed trial. His defense lawyer was appointed by the court. But experts have offered opposing views about the probable punishment. A death penalty appears very unlikely, but a prison sentence of 15 years or longer is almost certain, Mr. Chen said.
“The central leadership will have weighed up the various pressures — for Bo, against Bo — and come to a decision,” he said. “It’s not a decision for the court.”
The political passions evoked by Mr. Bo have made his case a difficult one for the party leadership. If the evidence offered is flimsy or relatively slight, his supporters may accuse leaders of pursuing a political vendetta. But if the evidence is extensive and severe, others will ask why Mr. Bo was allowed to stay in power for so long, and even position himself for possible promotion into the central leadership.
An urbane former minister of commerce with a liking for sleek suits and media attention, Mr. Bo was appointed the Communist Party secretary of Chongqing, a relatively poor municipality in southwest China, in 2007. He turned Chongqing into a showcase for a blend of welfare programs, reverent propaganda for the revolutionary past and harsh measures against those suspected of being members of organized crime cartels. Mr. Bo was a member of the Politburo, an elite council with 25 members, and his supporters hoped that he would win a place in the Politburo Standing Committee, the innermost circle of party power.
But his critics claim that Mr. Bo’s populist facade hid abuses of power and corrupt self-enrichment by him and his family. Mr. Bo fell abruptly from power in March last year, more than a month after the former police chief of Chongqing, Wang Lijun, fled to a United States Consulate. Mr. Wang disclosed accusations that Mr. Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, was involved in the murder of a British businessman, Neil Heywood, who knew the Bo family. And he accused Mr. Bo of trying to silence concerns about the case.
Ms. Gu was tried last August and found guilty of fatally poisoning Mr. Heywood in a hotel villa in Chongqing in November 2011. She received a death sentence with a reprieve, meaning the sentence is likely to be reduced to a long prison term. Mr. Bo was expelled from the Communist Party in September, when the authorities began a formal criminal investigation.
“We still don’t know what specific allegations lie behind the three charges against Bo Xilai,” said Li Zhuang, a lawyer in Beijing who became one of Mr. Bo’s fiercest critics after Mr. Li was jailed in Chongqing. Mr. Li had worked as a lawyer for a Chongqing businessman accused of running a criminal network.
“He could be accused of abusing power by trying to conceal or failing to report the Heywood murder,” Mr. Li said in a telephone interview. “From what I’ve heard, the sums involved in the corruption case are not as much as in some other corruption cases, but I think Bo Xilai’s damage to rule of law, private enterprise and justice was much worse than those other cases.”
An associate of Mr. Bo’s family said the prosecution’s case would feature Ms. Gu’s testimony, although it was unclear whether she would appear at the trial or, as is often done in China, give written testimony. The associate, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect himself from official recrimination, said Ms. Gu might testify about, among other things, a villa in France that could form part of the corruption accusations. Phone calls to Mr. Bo’s court-appointed lawyer, Li Guifang, were not immediately answered Sunday night.
Mr. Bo has not been seen or heard in public since March last year, and it remains unclear whether he will contest the charges. But the government is taking no chances by holding the trial in Jinan, a city far from Chongqing. Many residents of Chongqing still think fondly of Mr. Bo.
Another complication is that Mr. Bo is a “princeling” — the son of a revered revolutionary who served alongside Mao Zedong — and had personal ties with many other princelings, including Xi Jinping, who was appointed Communist Party chief in November. Since coming to office, Mr. Xi has promised to clean out corruption and waste in the party, and to remove crooked officials.
A Chinese businessman who is friends with other princelings said some of them had continued to express misgivings that Mr. Bo was being treated too harshly, even if he deserved censure for his mistakes. He spoke on the condition of anonymity to preserve his friendships with party insiders.