DAVID GREENE, HOST:
A sensational political scandal in China involves murder, abuse of power, and an attempted defection. And the case of senior politician Bo Xilai took another twist today. After months of speculation, it has just been announced that he has been expelled from the Communist Party and will face criminal charges. NPR's Louisa Lim is on the line with us from Beijing, and Louisa, what kind of charges is Bo Xilai going to face?
LOUISA LIM, BYLINE: Well, it really looks, from what we know, as if the leadership is really throwing the book at him. They're accusing him of all kinds of things. Uppermost is abuse of power in the murder case involving his wife. She's been found guilty of the murder of a British businessman. The Xinhua statement, it's also accused him of receiving large amounts of bribes and of improper sexual relations with a number of women.
So, I mean you have to understand, he was one of China's top leaders. He had been heading for a position on the very top committee, the most holy of holies. So really it appears that Chinese leadership are now taking down of their own in a very public way, so it's a very big deal.
GREENE: Yeah, that really is a litany of charges. Well, we hear words like murder in your description. I know this is an incredibly complicated case, but can you just walk us back a little bit and remind us, you know, how this all developed and how it became so public in a country that doesn't like a lot of openness?
LIM: This all started to come out back in February, when Bo Xilai's former police chief, a man called Wang Lijun, took flight and tried to get refuge in the U.S. consulate in Chengdu. And he then told U.S. officials that the British partner of Bo's wife, Gu Kalai, had been murdered, and that Bo's wife had played a role. So that attempted defection set in train a whole string of events, and Gu Kalai has been found guilty of murder. According to the official story during the trial, she used cyanide to poison him after a business deal went wrong. She's been given a suspended death sentence. Wang Lijun, the man who tried to defect to the U.S. consulate, has been given 15 years in jail.
So this moment, the moment when the accusations against Bo have come out, is what everyone's been waiting for.
GREENE: And so we have these criminal charges now against Bo Xilai, who as you said had a very prominent future, it appeared, ahead of him, in Chinese politics. And this is a moment where - I mean China's had some economic problems, there's a political transition under way. How has this drama fit into the larger picture?
LIM: Well, I mean the most important thing about today's announcement is that it means that the leadership has made a decision about what to do with Bo Xilai. This is important because Bo was a very polarizing figure. He's the son of a revolutionary hero. He had support within the party. The problems of trying to figure out what to do with him were actually dragging on the party. They were holding back the party from having this big congress at which the next leadership will be announced. So it is important that today we had another announcement setting a date for that conference. And that will now be in November, which is later than expected. But it is a sign, perhaps, that things are back on track, that China's politicians have figured out a way forward and a consensus on how to deal with Bo Xilai.
GREENE: Almost as if they're acknowledging that this was a big distraction. Now they can make a decision, get that out of the way, and they set this date for the big political meeting.
LIM: Yes, that's right. But still, I mean this case is very embarrassing. It's shocking for Chinese people because this case has really lifted the curtain on the way that some of China's elite have behaved - you know, rampant corruption, lack of morals, even a murder. So on the one hand it's been a distraction, but it's also been very damaging for the legitimacy and the reputation of the Communist Party.
GREENE: All right, Louisa, thanks so much for this update.
LIM: Thanks, David.
GREENE: That's NPR's Louisa Lim speaking to us from Beijing. This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.