China's disgraced Bo Xilai trapped in legal limbo - lawyers

BEIJING Mon Nov 5, 2012 5:00pm IST

Bo Xilai (2nd R), then Governor of Liaoning Province, pauses at the China Entrepreneur Annual Meeting 2003 in Beijing in this December 7, 2003 file photo. REUTERS/Jason Lee/Files

Bo Xilai (2nd R), then Governor of Liaoning Province, pauses at the China Entrepreneur Annual Meeting 2003 in Beijing in this December 7, 2003 file photo.

Credit: Reuters/Jason Lee/Files

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BEIJING (Reuters) - Two lawyers for disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai said on Monday they had no idea when his trial might start and that he was stuck in legal limbo despite the opening of a formal criminal investigation into accusations of graft and abuse of power.

Bo, once a contender for top leadership in the world's second largest economy, was ousted in China's biggest political scandal in two decades.

His wife, Gu Kailai, and his former police chief, Wang Lijun, have both been jailed over a scandal that stems from the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood while Bo was Communist Party chief of the southwestern city of Chongqing.

The government has accused Bo of corruption and of bending the law to hush up the murder. Prosecutors formally began a criminal probe into Bo last month but have yet to announce charges.

Two lawyers hired by Bo's family, Li Xiaolin and Shen Zhigeng, told Reuters that nearly two weeks after the official announcement of the criminal investigation, they had not been given permission to either see him or represent him.

"Of course not," Shen said, when asked whether he had seen Bo. "The confirmation (I can represent Bo) hasn't been verified. So how can we see (him)?"

Shen said the trial will be after a key Communist Party congress opening on Thursday in Beijing that will usher in a generational leadership change, and which has been overshadowed by the Bo scandal.

"I do not know," Shen said, referring to when the trial may start, but added that it will be "after the 18th Party Congress."

Top party leaders ended a closed-door conclave on Sunday with a decision to formally expel Bo from the party, as a precursor to criminal prosecution.

Beijing-based Li -- who was retained by Bo's mother-in-law, Fan Chengxiu, to represent Bo -- said he had no idea where the trial might be, but dismissed speculation it could be held at the Supreme People's Court in Beijing.

"There's no evidence for it," Li said by telephone.

Li said he was waiting for the state prosecutor, or the Supreme People's Procuratorate, to approve his application to represent Bo.

"Who knows if (they will) agree or not agree, we have to see what the higher ups say," Shen said.

As China's prosecutors and courts come under Communist Party control they are unlikely to challenge the accusations against Bo. The trial of Gu lasted only seven hours, while the trial of Wang lasted two days.

"All I can say is I hope he will be given a fair trial," Li said, when asked what he thought the prospects for Bo's trial would be.

Li was initially supposed to defend Zhang Xiaojun, an aide to the Bo family, who was sentenced to nine years in jail for acting as an accomplice to the poisoning of Heywood. But Zhang had to use government-appointed lawyers during the trial. (Editing by Ben Blanchard and Jonathan Thatcher)

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