Hearings going nowhere

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Hearings going nowhere

Key witnesses failed to show up to the third day of parliamentary hearings into the Choi-gate scandal held Wednesday. Choi Soon-sil herself, her daughter Chung Yoo-ra, former senior presidential secretary for civil affairs Woo Byung-woo, former senior presidential secretary for economic affairs An Chong-bum and the so-called “three doornobs” secretaries to President Park Geun-hye — Ahn Bong-geun, Lee Jae-man and Jeong Ho-seong — refused to present themselves at the hearing citing various reasons. The result: a Choi Soon-sil hearing without Choi Soon-sil.

Choi, currently detained, excused herself by claiming to be suffering from a panic disorder. However, she misspelt the name of her condition and there exists no record of her having medicine to treat it for the last month. It is doubtful she actually suffers from such a medical disorder.

The behavior by Woo Byung-woo was worse. The former senior presidential secretary for civil affairs, who is suspected of conniving in Choi’s influence-peddling, is rumored to be hiding in his mother-in-law’s house. Woo abused the law, which states that if you do not receive a summons in person seven days before the hearing, you don’t get punished for an absence. It’s very disheartening to see someone who once worked as a prosecutor, and acted as the protector of the law as a civil affairs secretary, using his legal expertise to wriggle off the hook.

These people, who disrupted state affairs and disregard the country’s Constitution, must be brought to justice. The Special Investigation Committee must either open more hearings or visit the detention center in person to grill the witnesses who refused to stand before the hearing. Should they refuse to attend until the end, then they should be punished strictly for contempt of the National Assembly. Also necessary is an amendment to the current law which prohibits the parliament from forcing someone to attend a hearing.

According to the law, if a witness refuses to show up at a hearing without justifiable reason, the witness could be sentenced to a maximum of three years in prison or could be ordered to pay a maximum fine of 10 million won. However, if the witness refuses to attend the hearing to the end, the Assembly has no legal authority to force the witness to attend a hearing unless a court grants it a warrant.

Because of this loophole, 14 out of 27 witnesses summoned to the hearing didn’t show up. The law should be revised. Wednesday’s hearing was nothing more than a performance — and not a very convincing one.

JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 8, Page 26

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