JINAN, China -- Ousted Chinese politician Bo Xilai told a court Saturday that he made mistakes that prompted his top aide's embarrassing U.S. defection bid, but denied criminal responsibility for the incident that triggered the country's messiest political scandal in decades.
"I made errors and was at fault. It hurt the reputation of the party and the country, and I'm very ashamed," Mr. Bo told the Jinan Intermediate People's Court in a rare show of contrition on the third day of his trial for corruption and abuse of power.
The ruling Communist Party is using the trial against Mr. Bo to cap a major political scandal unleashed last year when his aide fled to a U.S. consulate bearing revelations that Mr. Bo's wife killed a British businessman.
That scandal led to Mr. Bo's ouster as Politburo member and party leader of the southern megacity of Chongqing, making him the most senior leader to fall from power in years.
His purge is being cemented by criminal charges of abusing his power by interfering in the murder investigation and trying to hide the defection, as well as netting $4.3 million through corruption.
High-profile trials of senior leaders are regarded as the result of backroom negotiations, with the outcome decided by politicians and carried out by courts. Still, Mr. Bo has mounted an unexpectedly spirited defense, recanting earlier confessions, disputing evidence against him and calling his wife, who provided testimony against him, "crazy."
Court proceedings Saturday centered on events around the time when Mr. Bo's former top aide, Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun, fled to a U.S. consulate in the neighboring city of Chengdu in February 2012, fearing for his safety after he told Mr. Bo that the politician's wife had killed a British associate. Eventually Mr. Wang surrendered to Chinese authorities and blew the whistle, setting in motion his boss' spectacular downfall.
Mr. Bo told the court Saturday that he reacted angrily to the report of the murder, slapping the police chief in the face and smashing a cup in fury because he thought Chief Wang was framing his wife for the crime. Mr. Bo denied trying to cover up the murder.
"I thought he was being duplicitous. I have zero tolerance for duplicity," Mr. Bo said. "I slapped him in the face."
In his own testimony Saturday, Mr. Wang said the violent confrontation with Mr. Bo, as well as the disappearance of his subordinates who were investigating the murder, spurred him to flee to American officials for safety. He also said Mr. Bo did not slap him as much as punch him hard, causing his mouth to bleed.
"It was dangerous at the time," Mr. Wang told the court. "I was subject to violence, and my staff working closely with me and those working on the case disappeared."
Mr. Wang said he believed Mr. Bo had ordered an investigation into the police officers involved in the murder case to try to shield his wife, Gu Kailai.
In earlier testimony Saturday, Mr. Bo denied allegations that he had embezzled 5 million yuan ($800,000) in government funds in 2000, saying his wife stole the money without his involvement and revealing that the couple became estranged after he was unfaithful to Gu. He expressed remorse, however, that he had not acted to stop the misconduct.
The court's release of trial proceedings are in sharp contrast with the August 2012 conviction of Mr. Bo's wife in the murder of a British businessman, when she pleaded guilty in daylong proceedings and scant details were released.
Mr. Bo's trial had been expected to be similarly swift, but observers say giving him a chance to defend himself helps lend a veneer of legitimacy to what is widely seen as a political show trial.
"The leadership wants to have a trial that's seen as fair. You can't have a completely secret trial in today's China, it would be an embarrassment," said Brookings Institution scholar Cheng Li. "Bo Xilai is taking advantage of that trial to continue to perform as he did before."
Authorities remained on high alert for any unrest that might be triggered by the trial.