Speedy trials hold the key

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Speedy trials hold the key

A Seoul court held its first pretrial deliberation on Choi Soon-sil, the prime suspect on the unprecedented influence-peddling and power abuse scandal involving her and President Park Geun-hye. It was the same court in which former presidents Chun Doo Hwan and Roh Tae-woo were tried in 1996 for their bribery cases.

A pretrial does not require the presence of suspects, but Choi took the stand in white prison attire. It was the first time the public had a full view of the 60-year-old woman who shook the country and jeopardized Park’s presidency after wielding unfettered power in state affairs and who built riches through her mysterious influence over the president. It was obvious why she took the risk of making a public appearance after having denied her summoning to a parliamentary hearing on Dec.7.

On the stand, she vehemently defended herself and denied all 11 charges the prosecution accused her of. Three days earlier, President Park denied all the 13 accounts in her written response to the Constitutional Court.

Park and Choi share the same fate. The Constitutional Court’s ruling on Park and civil court judgment on Choi would affect each other.

The two suspects resorted to the same strategy, raising suspicions that somehow they could have coordinated their reactions through their lawyers.

Choi’s lawyer Lee Kyung-jae denied the eight charges against Choi on collusion with President Park’s senior secretary for policy coordination An Chong-bum. The charges include strong-arming local conglomerates to donate 77.4 billion won ($65.76 million) to two nonprofit organizations Choi headed and made Hyundai Motor sign a supply contract with a company she was involved with. The president claimed that Choi was a part of her “Kitchen Cabinet,” a term used to refer to a collection of unofficial advisers. She claimed that she did not seek personal interests and was not aware of Choi’s criminal activities. Choi’s trial is expected to be fiery and contentious.

All suspects have the right to defend themselves. But their strong defense raises questions whether the truth can be found soon. Choi’s trial will inevitably affect the Constitutional Court’s ruling on the legitimacy of Park’s impeachment. Park claims that the highest court must reach its final ruling after thorough consideration of the trails of Choi and others. The court must consider holding trials every day to speed up the process.

JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 20, Page 34
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