South Korea’s president Park shuns court hearing on impeachment trial
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South Korea’s president Park shuns court hearing on impeachment trial

EMBATTLED South Korean President Park Geun-hye has 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.

With Park refusing to appear on Tuesday, the nine-justice court asked her to testify on Thursday. Her no-show brought criticism from lawmakers, who serve as prosecutors during the presidential impeachment trial.

The court says 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 Park’s refusal to 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, as quoted by the Associated Press.

Lawmakers last month voted to impeach Park after prosecutors accused her of colluding with a close confidante to extort money and favours from companies and allow the friend to manipulate government affairs.

Park’s lawyer, Lee Joong-hwan, said she does not plan to appear Thursday and will probably not testify during the impeachment trial, the AP reported.

SEE ALSO: S.Korea: President Park breaks month-long silence, says corruption allegations were “fabricated”

South Korea’s Constitutional Court judges have 180 days to decide whether or not to follow through with the impeachment or to reinstate Park as president.

A presidential election will be held within 60 days if the court formally removes Park from office.

In October 2016, Park became embroiled in political turmoil amid accusations that she had been heavily influenced by a close confidante, Choi Soon-sil, with whom she allegedly shared state documents with and received advice from.

A lawyer for South Korean President Park Geun-hye prays before the first hearing arguments for South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s impeachment trial at the Constitutional Court in Seoul, South Korea, Jan 3, 2017. Pic: Reuters

The scandal has drawn hundreds of thousands of protesters onto the streets of Seoul for weekly demonstrations and could result in Park, 64, becoming the first democratically elected South Korean leader to leave office early.

Park was impeached by Parliament late last year, a decision that must be upheld or rejected by the Constitutional Court. Arguments were set to begin on Tuesday in a court process that could take several months.

She was impeached after numerous protests and lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to remove her from her position in the government – making her the country’s first elected leader to be pushed from office with disgrace.

SEE ALSO: Choi-gate: South Korea pushes for extradition of daughter of President Park’s friend

On Sunday, Park denied that Choi had been allowed to hold undue and wide-reaching influence over state affairs, reports Reuters.

Her meeting with local media was the first event she has held since her impeachment on Dec 9.

On Monday, South Korean prosecutors said Danish police arrested the equestrian competitor daughter of Choi for her ties to the scandal.

South Korean authorities had been seeking the arrest of Chung Yoo-ra, 20, for alleged criminal interference related to her academic record, and other unspecified charges.

Danish officials had five people in custody, including Chung and a child born in 2015, a police official said, declining to be identified, not four as police said earlier on Monday. Chung is known to have a young son.

The others in custody are two men who appear to be Koreans in their late twenties or early thirties and a woman in her sixties.

Chung became a figure of public ire in South Korea last year after it emerged that she had received special treatment from the prestigious Ewha Womans University, where her admission was subsequently cancelled.

As part of their investigation, South Korean prosecutors are trying to ascertain whether Samsung Electronics sought favours from Choi and Park in return for funding some of their initiatives. An element of the investigation has been Samsung’s sponsorship of Chung’s riding career.

Additional reporting by the Associated Press and Reuters