Edward Wong

BEIJING: Chinese leaders announced Friday that Bo Xilai, a disgraced Communist Party aristocrat, had been expelled from the party and would be prosecuted on criminal charges. The leaders also said they had scheduled the 18th Party Congress, the climax of China’s once-a-decade leadership transition, to start Nov. 8.

The announcements ended months of speculation over two towering issues: how the party would handle Bo, the most critical player in the one of the biggest political scandals in decades; and when it would be ready to install a wave of new leaders, including Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang, the men expected to become president and prime minister.

Bo is accused, among other things, of abusing his power in relation to the case of a British businessman whom authorities say was murdered by Bo’s wife, and of taking “massive bribes” directly and through his family, according to Xinhua, the state news agency. The official report’s long list of accusations against Bo, which included adultery, is intended to bury Bo’s political career and ensure that his allies are unable to rally support for him among ordinary Chinese.

Political insiders said the decisions over how to move ahead on dealing with Bo and the timing of the party congress were linked, because the Bo issue had to be settled to a certain degree before the leadership transition could take place. But party elders could still be in conflict over other significant issues, including the exact makeup of the incoming group of party leaders. The Nov. 8 date, a week after the start of a party planning session and two days after the U.S. presidential election, gives the elders time to try to conclude their negotiations.

The most watched part of the transition will be the announcement of who gets seats on the Politburo Standing Committee, the elite body that governs China by consensus and whose membership could be reduced to seven from nine this year.

Murder, bribes

The son of one of China’s revered revolutionary leaders, Bo, 63, the former party chief of the southwest metropolis of Chongqing, was one of the most powerful politicians in China and considered a contender for the standing committee before investigators began looking early this year into the killing of Neil Heywood, a British citizen.

Gu Kailai, Bo’s wife, was convicted last month of murdering Heywood by poisoning and given a suspended death sentence, which means she will likely serve a long prison term, possibly life.

The announcements came after a Politburo meeting here in Beijing on Friday. A weeklong national holiday is to start in China on Sunday, and many people had expected news on either Bo’s fate or the party congress before then. The news was posted online by Xinhua at 6 p.m., which published an editorial soon afterward under the headline: “Anyone violating party discipline and the law of the country will be severely punished.”

The most serious appeared to be those relating to bribes and the Heywood murder, although no specific information was given. Gu was also accused of taking bribes.

One Chongqing resident with official ties said the news was told to officials in afternoon meetings; at one session, the attendees were told that Bo had taken several million renminbi in bribes and Gu had taken more than 20 million renminbi, or $3 million.

Flamboyant style

The strong-willed Bo and his flamboyant style of politicking were regarded as threats by many of the current and ascending leaders.

He was seen as a potential rival to Xi, a fellow princeling in line to become party chief and president.

The Chongqing resident with official ties said that even after his detention, Bo’s sense of superiority remained undiminished — Bo refused to cooperate with investigators and cursed them instead.

It is unclear when a criminal trial for Bo would begin, but Xinhua said the case had been handed from party investigators over to the judiciary.

Bo has been detained since March, when he was dismissed from his party chief position.

He was suspended from the Politburo the following month.

The state media said Bo was under investigation for “serious disciplinary violations.”