Gov’t seeks to enforce Choi’s summons

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Gov’t seeks to enforce Choi’s summons

The main opposition party on Tuesday vowed to “strengthen punitive measures” against any witnesses that turn down the National Assembly’s order to appear for questioning, blaming Korea’s lax legal system for presidential friend Choi Soon-sil’s refusal to show up at a hearing today.

Rep. Ki Dong-min, spokesman of the Minjoo Party of Korea, said his liberal party will push to amend relevant laws, for instance by placing witnesses under physical arrest for a certain time period.

The statement came a day after Choi, who is at the center of the political scandal involving President Park Geun-hye, said through her private lawyer that she would skip the parliamentary questioning today, citing an ongoing criminal case and health issues.

Choi Soon-deuk and Jang Si-ho, the sister and niece of Choi Soon-sil, also notified the special probe committee of their decision not to attend the hearing, saying they are “too ill.”

Under current law, if a witness refuses to attend a hearing led by a special legislative committee without a “just reason,” he or she can be subject to up to three years in jail or 10 million won ($8,550) in fines.

In most cases, however, they pay only a few million won - if anything, at all.

The committee can issue an order forcing them to appear, which can lead to five years in prison if violators still fail to show up without a justifiable reason. But in reality, those summoned rarely face jail time.

It is yet to be seen whether the committee will issue the order for Choi, her sister and niece, although Rep. Kim Sung-tae of the ruling Saenuri Party, to which the president belongs, warned Monday he would do so if they do not show up.

Rep. Kim is the chair of the 18-member bipartisan committee.

“I can’t help but ask these people [Choi family] whether they still think of themselves as an abdicated king,” said Rep. Woo Sang-ho, floor leader of the Minjoo Party. “Treating the general public like this indicates they’re looking down on them.”

On another front, Rep. Yun Ho-jung, chief policymaker of the Minjoo Party, declared Tuesday that the “time has come” for the National Assembly to start discussing how to redeem all the assets that were illegally acquired by Park and the Choi family.

The opposition party suggested a legal amendment for that, as well, suggesting changes in the real-name systems for real estate trading and financial transactions.

Rep. Yun also mentioned establishing a “special law” that would enable the government to punish Park or her aides without a statute of limitations.

BY WI MOON-HEE, LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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