Court commands Park to be more forthcoming
Reminding President Park Geun-hye that the presumption of innocence does not apply in an impeachment trial, the Constitutional Court Tuesday urged her to more vigorously explain herself in the courtroom and stop using a stalling tactic.
As soon as the court opened the third hearing of Park’s impeachment trial in the morning, Chief Justice Park Han-chul asked the National Assembly’s impeachment committee and Park’s lawyers to cooperate more for a speedy trial.
“I understand that the trial is moving quickly, so you may not have enough time to prepare your arguments,” he said. “But both sides must remember that proceedings must not be delayed.”
On Dec. 9, 2016, the National Assembly passed a motion to impeach Park for having committed violations of the Constitution and criminal laws by allowing her secret inner circle, including longtime friend Choi Soon-sil, to interfere in state affairs. It also accused her of failing to properly respond to the sinking of the Sewol ferry on April 16, 2014, in which 304 passengers died after a delayed government response. The motion said Park violated Article 10 of the Constitution, which demands she protect the lives of citizens.
At Tuesday’s hearing, Justice Kang Il-won, the presiding judge in the case, expressed his frustration with the impeached president. “Why is she keeping mum? I am irritated,” he said.
“She made no response to my demand, although I am the presiding judge,” he said. “My question was about what she already said in an address to the nation, and it’s been over a month. I am frustrated why she is not saying anything.”
At the first pretrial conference on Dec. 22, 2016, Kang asked Park to state specifically since when and how she was assisted by her friend Choi. “She said Choi helped her in speech writing and public affairs, and I want more clear and detailed explanations,” Kang said at the time.
Noting that Park has not submitted an answer to his question, Kang did not hide his displeasure. He reminded Park and her lawyers that an impeachment trial at the Constitutional Court is different from an ordinary criminal trial and implored her to respond more clearly to questions.
“If this was a criminal trial, the accused would be presumed to be innocent, so she could just deny a charge,” Kang said. “But this is an impeachment trial, and the accused must more actively clarify the facts.”
The court also made clear that it was not satisfied with a report submitted by Park on her whereabouts and actions during the sinking of the Sewol. “She must recall her memories and submit another report,” Justice Lee Jin-sung said Tuesday.
“The report listed briefings given to the president and orders she made,” Lee said. “But the president must recall her memories and give a detailed account.”
Ahead of the hearing, Park’s lawyers submitted the report, supposedly created in consultation with Park and the Blue House. It was 19 days since Lee asked Park to describe where she was in the Blue House compound, what she did, what was reported to her and what orders she made by each hour “without any omission” during the first seven hours of the Sewol’s sinking on April 16, 2014.
The report stated Park’s actions from 9:53 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. on that day. It said Park received all briefings in the office of her residence, not the presidential office at the Blue House.
Park was first briefed by the National Security Office at 10 a.m. about the accident and made her first order to rescue everyone at 10:15 a.m. Justice Lee pointed out that the report failed to state when she was first aware of the accident and demanded an answer. “TV reports [about the sinking] started sometime after 9 a.m., although she was first briefed at 10 a.m.,” Lee said. “She must answer whether she did not see the TV news.”
Justice Lee also demanded Park submit telephone communication records with then-head of the National Security Office Kim Jang-soo to corroborate her claims that she had numerous communications with him in which she made rescue orders. Park’s lawyers said they will submit an additional report later.
The ferry made its first report about its situation to maritime authorities at 8:52 a.m. Around 10:17 a.m., the ferry capsized and by 11:30 a.m., only a part of the bow was above water. Around 1 p.m., the ship was completely submerged, which the government confirmed at an official briefing at 2 p.m.
The report said that at 2:50 p.m. Park was told that she was misinformed earlier about the rescue mission being successful. Ten minutes later, she gave orders to arrange a visit to the disaster headquarter.
It took two hours and 15 minutes for her to leave the Blue House at 5:15 p.m., and she spent 20 minutes starting from around 3:35 p.m. to do her hair by summoning stylists.
In the report, Park’s lawyers argued against allegations that she had undergone a cosmetic surgery procedure on that day.
BY SER MYO-JA [firstname.lastname@example.org]