In a resolution of China's highest-profile case of political prosecution, state media reported on Friday morning that a Beijing court sentenced Chen Xi-tong, a former mayor and party boss of Beijing, to 16 years in prison for corruption and dereliction of duty.

Chen, 68, is the most senior Chinese leader to be jailed since the show trials of the Gang of Four, the leftists who were ousted from power 20 years ago. Earlier reports had accused Chen of embezzling state funds, taking bribes and abusing power to support "a corrupt and decadent life."In China today, a vast panorama of corruption has grown out of flourishing businesses controlled by officials with broad influence and few checks or balances. Even so, Chen's demise is an eye-opening tale of seemingly invincible power, spectacular excess and sudden fall.

As the top man in Beijing's city government, and the man with final say over building permits during a construction boom in the early 1990s, Chen personally amassed a fund of $24 million, as well as an extensive collection of private homes where he had a taste for entertaining young female television presenters, according to an internal report on his activities that emerged last year.