Jinan - The crimes of fallen Chinese politician Bo Xilai were "extremely serious", prosecutors said on Monday as his bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power trial began moving into its final stages.
The description is a key factor in Chinese sentencing, where courts must generally find that offences are "extremely serious" and there are no mitigating factors if they are to impose the death penalty.
Analysts widely believe that despite the drama of the trial, which has seen Bo mount a feisty defence, a guilty verdict is a foregone conclusion and a long prison sentence has already been agreed.
But under Chinese law the death penalty is available for cases of bribery involving more than $16 000 and the prosecution told the court: "The defendant's crimes are extremely serious.
"He pleaded not guilty to the charges, and there are no extenuating circumstances suggesting lighter punishment. It must be dealt with severely according to the law."
The comments were according to the Intermediate People's Court in Jinan, which is posting regular but delayed transcripts of the proceedings on its account on Sina Weibo, a Twitter equivalent, in a move hailed by state media as unprecedented transparency.
But no foreign media are present in court and no independent verification is possible. The delays in posting the transcripts have lengthened as the trial has gone on, and Monday's posting of the prosecutor's address was taken down within minutes of being published.
It was reposted and taken down again, before being re-published once more with one section deleted.
In it, Bo had claimed to have been acting on orders from his "superiors" when he obtained a fake medical certificate about Wang Lijun, his police chief and right-hand man in the south-western megacity of Chongqing, who had fled to a US consulate.
Wang's attempt to seek asylum revealed the scandal surrounding the death of British businessman Neil Heywood, for which the politician's wife Gu Kailai was convicted of murder.
During the proceedings Bo has dismissed Gu as "insane", launched a scathing attack on Wang as "full of lies and fraud", and compared another prosecution witness to a "mad dog".
Bo has admitted mistakes relating to the investigation into Heywood's killing and "some responsibility" for embezzled state funds that were transferred to one of Gu's bank accounts, but denies all the charges.
His defiance has astonished a public unfamiliar with the open airing of top-level intrigue and is in stark contrast to previous Chinese political trials, in which most defendants have humbly confessed their crimes in opaque court proceedings.
Margaret Lewis, professor at Seton Hall Law School in the US and an expert in Chinese law, pointed out: "In China, like many other countries, most defendants plead guilty, whether or not it is a case with political implications.
"In part this is because of a general policy in China of 'leniency for those who confess, severity for those who resist'."
The trial was originally widely expected to last only two days but having finished hearing evidence from witnesses and written testimony it resumed for a fifth day on Monday and moved to discussing the prosecution and defence cases, expected to be one of the last sections of the proceedings.
The scandal that brought Bo down erupted in advance of a generational shift of power atop China's factionalised Communist Party.
Revelations of private jet flights, luxury villas and rare animal meats have held Chinese Internet users spellbound.
But virtually nothing has been said publicly of Bo's links with other top communist leaders - even though he was once one of the 25 highest-ranking members of the ruling party and tipped to ascend even higher.
Bo's populist politics won supporters across China but alienated some top leaders of the ruling party, who saw his brash approach as a return to a bygone era of strongman rule.