The corruption trial of ousted Chinese politician Bo Xilai on Thursday marks the Communist Party's efforts to wrap up its messiest scandal in decades. Bo's spectacular downfall last year was triggered by the embarrassing flight of his top aide to a U.S. consulate and revelations that Bo's wife had murdered a British businessman. The scandal exposed divisive infighting in the highest echelons of Chinese politics that party leaders would rather keep behind closed doors.
Here's a look at the leading characters in the scandal:
_ Bo Xilai: Until his ouster, Bo was the Communist Party chief of the megacity of Chongqing and one of the country's most prominent political figures. The telegenic, media-savvy politician rode to nationwide fame by waging an anti-mafia crackdown and organizing mass sing-alongs of Communist Party songs. But his publicity-seeking ways and his revival of Mao Zedong-era radical campaigns alarmed many in the political elite. The son of one of the Communist state's founding fathers, Bo was already in the party's 25-member Politburo and before the scandal was seen as a contender for an even higher post. Rumors had also swirled about the Bo family's wealth and the shenanigans of his son. Bo is standing trial for bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power.
_ Gu Kailai: Bo's wife has confessed to killing British businessman Neil Heywood after having a dispute over money and worrying that he had threatened her son's safety, according to state media. She is said to have risen out of a trying childhood during nationwide upheaval to become a prominent. She was skilled at turning on the charm when the going was smooth, yet quick to turn hostile when crossed. Like Bo, she is the offspring of a prominent Chinese revolutionary veteran. A Chinese court gave Gu a suspended death sentence in August last year that will likely be commuted to a life term.
_ Bo Guagua: The couple's 25-year-old son, who was educated at top universities in England and the United States, including Harvard. Guagua, who has appeared shirtless at parties in photos posted on the Internet, has said he attended social events as an Oxford University undergraduate to broaden his perspective. He denies accusations he received preferential treatment in admissions, that he was a poor student or that he drove a pricey sports car. He is not believed to have returned to China since the scandal broke and he is currently studying law at Columbia University. He says he has been denied access to his parents since their detention 18 months ago.
_ Wang Lijun: Once Bo's right-hand man and Chongqing's police chief, Wang was sidelined by Bo in February last year after Wang confronted him with news that Bo's wife was suspected of killing Heywood. Fearing for his life, Wang fled to the U.S. consulate in the nearby city of Chengdu, where Chinese authorities say he applied for asylum. Chinese security sealed the area around the consulate as Wang negotiated with officials for safe passage to Beijing accompanied by state security officials. While in the consulate, Wang is believed to have alleged that Gu was behind Heywood's death, prompting the British government to ask China to launch a new investigation. In a surprising twist, people who attended Wang's trial say the court heard evidence that Gu had informed Wang of her intentions and that for a time, he too participated in planning the murder. Wang was sentenced to 15 years for corruption and covering up the Heywood murder.
_ Neil Heywood: Heywood was a British business consultant and Bo family friend whose body was found in a secluded Chongqing hilltop retreat in November 2011. Chinese authorities originally blamed his death on excessive drinking or a heart attack and his body was cremated without an autopsy. Subsequently, an official Chinese statement said he had a longtime business relationship with Gu and her son, Guagua, but that it had deteriorated over financial disputes. Bo reportedly sought to block a police investigation after Wang came to him with his suspicions.