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Report on Ousted China Official Shows Effort at Damage Control

Communist Party leaders sacked Bo Xilai, the powerful party chief of metropolitan Chongqing, after being told that he had schemed to remove his police chief and impede a corruption investigation involving his family, according to a preliminary report on Mr. Bo’s actions circulated among government officials.

A version of the report, posted on a Chinese Web site and verified independently, provides a rare glimpse of the government’s internal efforts to manage one of its biggest political earthquakes in years. Some officials are worried that the purge of Mr. Bo could upset plans for a transfer of power to a new generation of party leaders this fall.

The report also states for the first time that the Chongqing police chief who set off that earthquake — Mr. Bo’s trusted aide, Wang Lijun — had sought political asylum when he fled to a United States consulate to escape Mr. Bo’s wrath.

The Communist Party Central Committee circulated the findings to ranking party and government officials on Friday, one day after the announcement of Mr. Bo’s dismissal. Its contents were confirmed by a researcher at a ministry-level institute and by a Chongqing official briefed by colleagues who were present when the report was read at a government meeting.

Combined with other actions in recent days, the government’s decision to begin making its case against Mr. Bo suggests a campaign to discredit him. Mr. Bo, a broadly popular but highly controversial politician whose father was one of China’s revolutionary-era leaders, was openly seeking a spot in China’s top leadership when power changes hands late this year.

It also raises the prospect that Mr. Bo could face criminal charges, a rarity for an official of his rank. The party secretaries of Beijing and Shanghai, major metropolises like Chongqing, were dismissed in 1995 and 2006, respectively, and later were imprisoned for corruption. Like Mr. Bo, both were also members of the Politburo, the 25-member body that oversees Communist Party affairs.

Both of those firings, like Mr. Bo’s, were principally viewed as the fallout from power struggles within the leadership. But a number of political analysts say they regard Mr. Bo’s dismissal as potentially more serious because it involves more than a struggle for control.

“It’s not about political lines,” said Zheng Yongnian, who directs the East Asia Institute at the National University of Singapore. “It’s about whether to reform or not reform.”

The decision to oust Mr. Bo in the midst of a once-in-a-decade change of rulers underscores the gravity with which leaders view both his political influence and the controversy around him.

After decades in which leaders were handpicked by predecessors, this year’s leadership change is the first in China’s Communist history that is following rules — albeit rules known mostly only by China’s leaders. Ensuring a stable transition has become a party obsession.

“If he is dislodged and this purge sticks, then the transition can move forward smoothly,” Andrew J. Nathan, an expert on China’s leadership at Columbia University, said of Mr. Bo. Yet “they have paid a huge price by firing him.”

“They have had to do exactly the thing that they hate him for doing,” he added, “which is to shred the facade of party unity. And they would have preferred not to.”

Mr. Bo, 62, has built a national reputation on his charisma — a sharp contrast to the rest of China’s interchangeably bland leadership — and on his stewardship of Chongqing, a fast-growing municipality with a population of 28 million, where he marshaled the government to purge officials and private entrepreneurs accused of organized crime, redistribute wealth and start a big drive to urbanize and house rural migrants.

His statist policies and promotion of a retro-Maoist culture in which citizens sang patriotic songs and dressed in red made him a darling of China’s political left and a serious contender for a seat on the Politburo’s Standing Committee, whose nine members enjoy uncontested authority over government policy.

But that same personality and political bent were said to nettle President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao, who appeared to resent his mixing of state power over the economy and society with the promotion of his personal and political interests. Some in the elite also frowned on Mr. Bo’s crowd-courting, almost Western style of politicking.

Mr. Bo’s rise came to an abrupt end on Feb. 6, after his longtime aide and Chongqing’s vice mayor, Wang Lijun, fled the city and sought refuge overnight at the United States Consulate in Chengdu, in Sichuan Province. Mr. Wang left the consulate after about a day and was taken by Chinese security officials to Beijing for interrogation.

The version of the party’s four-point report circulated on Friday purports to explain why Mr. Wang fled to the consulate and how the party contained the damage. In essence, it states that Mr. Wang left Chongqing because he feared for his safety after telling Mr. Bo that his family was under criminal investigation.

The party investigation’s “preliminary findings” state that Mr. Wang, whose portfolio included Chongqing’s security apparatus, told Mr. Bo on Jan. 28 about “important cases related to the Bo family.” Mr. Wang told him that some investigators on the cases had felt pressured and sought to resign.

“Comrade Bo Xilai was very dissatisfied with this,” the leaked transcript states. Within days, he arranged for Mr. Wang to be removed as police chief and demoted to a lesser role supervising education and science, without seeking the approval of the Ministry of Public Security, the document adds, “as rules dictated.”

The report does not address why Mr. Wang, a subordinate of Mr. Bo’s, would have sought to pursue his own corruption investigation against his boss. Corruption inquiries against a leader of the rank of Mr. Bo would normally be conducted by investigators under the direct authority of the party elite in Beijing, not by a provincial official.

According to the report, after the Chongqing party authorities announced the move to the local police on Feb. 2, investigations were initiated of Mr. Wang’s aides and the investigators of the cases against the Bo family, under pressure from Mr. Bo’s relatives and people who worked by Mr. Bo’s side.

“Wang Lijun felt that his own personal safety was under threat. He then decided to leave.”

The document states that Mr. Wang filed a formal request for political asylum with American consular officials after discussing “matters related to cooperation and exchange,” but does not elaborate.

Rumors have been rife — and unverified — that Mr. Wang presented American officials with evidence of official corruption, and that he dispatched more evidence outside China for release in the event that someone should seek to harm him.

Both those rumors and the party’s findings underscore the unusual degree to which reports of corruption dog the Chinese elite, and color citizens’ views of their leaders. Few complaints about the government are as widely shared, and few seem as resistant to solution as the issue of graft.

In Mr. Bo’s case, however, accusations of corruption may be part of a broader effort by Mr. Bo’s rivals in the party leadership to sully his reputation as a populist Robin Hood who wielded his power to better the lot of Chongqing’s poor multitudes.

On Friday, Mr. Hu’s ally and heir apparent, Vice President Xi Jinping, published an essay in a Communist Party journal calling for more discipline in the party’s ranks and criticizing those who “play to the crowd” or use their positions to gain fame or wealth.

Like Mr. Wen’s remarks at a news conference last week warning against radical policies that could trigger another Cultural Revolution, Mr. Xi’s article was largely interpreted as a swipe at Mr. Bo’s flamboyant rule.

Even so, Mr. Bo’s popularity and clout makes disposing of his case an “extremely dangerous” matter for party leaders, said Cheng Li, a scholar of the Chinese leadership at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

“If the charge is too lenient, some senior leaders and all liberal intellectuals will not agree,” he said. “If they only charge him with corruption, that will make him a hero among many people because the general perception is that corruption is a widespread phenomenon — so why are you singling him out?”

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