The announcement by Jinan City People’s Procuratorate in Shandong province, reported by the state-run New China News Agency, did not say when Bo would go on trial, but close followers of the case expect the proceedings to begin within a week or two.
Bo was fired from his post as Communist Party secretary in Chongqing in March 2012 and was stripped of his position as one of the 25 members of the Politburo. He will become one of the highest-level party officials prosecuted in years.
The allegations against Bo and his removal from his posts exposed fractures within the Communist Party’s upper ranks.
The son of one of Mao Tse-tung's closest comrades, Bo was until last year considered a rival to Xi Jinping, who took the reins of the Communist Party in November and became president in March. But his downfall began when Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun briefly took refuge in the U.S. consulate in Chengdu in February 2012 and accused Bo and his wife of poisoning the British man.
Many had expected Bo to be charged and go on trial last fall, ahead of the party’s leadership transition, so that Xi and his new team could take office with a clean slate.
It is routine in China for the outcomes of sensitive trials to be arranged ahead of time by the party. But Bo was said to be reluctant to concede wrongdoing and retained a significant number of allies in the upper echelons of the party. Senior officials were apparently unwilling to risk the spectacle of a defiant Bo in court, rejecting prosecutors’ allegations, on the eve of the delicate leadership transition.
“Bo was not willing to cooperate. He refused to say he was sorry,” said Willy Lam, a political analyst at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “But now I think they have finally struck a deal and he will get less than 20 years, maybe 15 to 20 years.”
Lam said time was growing short for Xi to put the Bo matter to rest ahead of a key party gathering in October during which senior leaders will lay out their economic agenda and other reform plans for the next few years. He said he expected Bo’s trial to begin within seven days.
That could allow the trial to conclude even ahead of the traditional seaside summer beach retreat for senior leaders in Beidaihe, during which Xi and other top officials will confer behind closed doors in preparation for the October plenum.
“I think Xi Jinping was fairly anxious to get this over with as he prepares for the October meeting,” Lam said. “Xi was willing to compromise. If the Bo question is not settled, it will overshadow this [October] meeting.”
In Chongqing, Bo had spearheaded a revival of dancing and singing of revolutionary songs and a Cultural Revolution-style crackdown on crime. He became a hero to many ordinary Chinese nostalgic about communism as it existed before China's reform and opening.
In announcing Bo's ouster from the party last fall, the news agency said that Bo had "received huge bribes personally and through his family ... and maintained improper sexual relationships with a number of women."
Wang, the police chief, was convicted in September on charges of abuse of power, defection, bribe-taking and “bending the law for selfish ends” and was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Bo has not been seen in public since last year, and it was unclear how party officials may have finally secured a compromise with him. Hu Ping, an exiled political commentator based in New York, said recently that he believed Bo may have struck a deal that would shield his son Bo Guagua from scrutiny.
“If the old man doesn't accept his crimes, they'll go after his son,” Hu wrote in the Human Rights in China Biweekly this month. “Bo Xilai has to cooperate with the authorities to make sure his son can avoid trouble.”
Bo Guagua, 25, studied at Oxford and at Harvard’s Kennedy School and is believed to still be in the United States. After the allegations against his father surfaced, he sought to rebut accusations that he had tooled around Beijing in a Ferrari and that his parents’ business associates had bankrolled his foreign education.
In September, he came out in defense of his father, describing him as “upright.”
"Personally it is hard for me to believe the allegations that were announced against my father, because they contradict everything I have come to know about him throughout my life," Bo Guagua wrote in a message posted online. “He has always taught me to be my own person and to have concern for causes greater than ourselves. … "At this point, I expect the legal process to follow its normal course, and I will await the result."
On Thursday, state-run media outlets sought to portray Bo’s impending trial as an example of the effectiveness of the party’s anti-corruption campaign and proof of the rule of law.
But a comment piece carried by Xinhua also indicated that Bo’s popularity in Chongqing was seen as a threat to those in power in Beijing.
"China's historical experience has shown time and time again that the nation's long-term stability can only be secured by protecting the central leadership's authority," the commentary said.
Tommy yang in the Times Beijing bureau contributed to this report.