South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye refuses to testify in impeachment trial
South Korean President Park Geun-hye on Tuesday refused to testify in a case that will decide her future following her impeachment over a corruption scandal, forcing the Constitutional Court to delay the start of oral arguments.
After Park’s refusal, the nine-justice court asked her to testify on Thursday, when some of her current and former aides are also scheduled to testify. Her no-show brought criticism from lawmakers, who serve as prosecutors in the trial.
The court has said it cannot force Park to appear in the hearings, which under law can proceed without her if she refuses for a second time to appear.
Lawmaker Kweon Seong Dong, the chief prosecutor in the trial, questioned why Park cannot defend herself in court when just two days ago she vehemently rejected the accusations of corruption in a hastily arranged meeting with reporters at Seoul’s presidential Blue House.
“It’s not good etiquette to the justices and also inappropriate for the president, as the defendant of the impeachment trial, to say this and that to the media outside of court,” Kweon told reporters.
Lee Jung-hwan, Park’s lawyer, said she does not plan to appear on Thursday and will probably not testify during the impeachment trial.
The trial in the Constitutional Court will decide if Park should permanently step down or be reinstated. If the court formally removes Park from office, a presidential election will be held within 60 days.
South Korea’s opposition-controlled parliament voted last month to impeach Park, weeks after state prosecutors accused her of colluding with a close confidante to extort money and favours from companies and allow the friend to manipulate government affairs.
After indicting Park’s friend, Choi Soon-sil, Choi’s niece, and several former government and presidential officials for allegedly helping Choi, state prosecutors handed over the investigation to a special prosecution team, which has been focusing on proving bribery suspicions between Park and business giant Samsung.
The investigators want to bring home Choi’s daughter, Chung Yoo-ra, who was arrested in Denmark, as they look into the suspicions that Samsung sponsored Choi in exchange for government favours.
The inquiry has led to the arrest of the country’s former Health Minister, Moon Hyung-pyo, who allegedly forced the National Pension Service to support a merger between two Samsung affiliates last year.
The deal shaved the fund’s stake in one of the companies by an estimated hundreds of millions of dollars, but allowed Samsung scion Lee Jae-yong to promote a father-to-son succession of leadership and boost corporate wealth at the group.
Lee has apologised for the use of corporate funds to buy a horse for Chung, an equestrian athlete, but denied that Samsung sought favours from Choi or Park’s administration. There are also questions as to why Samsung financially supported a winter sports centre run by Choi’s niece and a sports management firm Choi established in Germany.