President stays away from first pleading session of her impeachment trial

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President stays away from first pleading session of her impeachment trial

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Nine judges of the Constitutional Court sit during the first hearing arguments for President Park Geun-hye's impeachment trial at the court in Seoul on Tuesday. [JOINT PRESS CORPS]

President Park Geun-hye skipped the first hearing of her impeachment trial by the Constitutional Court Tuesday.

The court opened the session at 2 p.m. and realized she wasn’t in attendance to say whether she accepted the impeachment motion or not. It adjourned after nine minutes.

The court said it will hold the next hearing on Thursday. If Park does not show up, her counsel will make a statement for her and the court will proceed with the trial without her.

Park was impeached on Dec. 9 for violations of the Constitution and criminal laws by giving undue power to a secret inner circle including longtime friend Choi Soon-sil and failing to act properly to save citizens’ lives in a ferry disaster in April 2014.

“The court is deeply aware of the grave weight of this case in our constitutional order,” said Constitutional Court Chief Justice Park Han-chul in opening remarks Tuesday. “With a fair and just attitude, the court will do its best to try the case strictly and impartially.”

The chief justice also said the court is well aware of the vacuum in leadership prompted by the impeachment and urged the National Assembly’s impeachment committee and Park’s lawyers to actively cooperate in a speedy trial.

Concerns were initially high that the court may need the full 180 days granted it for the trial because of the wide range of charges and their complexity. But the court made it clear at three pretrial conferences last month that it wants a speedy trial.

At Tuesday’s hearing, the National Assembly introduced a transcript of Park’s remarks at a Sunday teatime meeting with reporters as additional evidence. The legislature said Park’s remarks included circumstantial evidence of her aiding Choi.

At the hearing Thursday, the court will hear testimony from key witnesses: former Blue House secretaries Ahn Bong-geun and Lee Jae-man and two staffers who worked on Park’s personal affairs. They are expected to testify about Park’s specific whereabouts and actions during the crucial early hours after the Sewol ferry started to capsize and sink on April 16, 2014.

In a third hearing scheduled for next Tuesday, testimony will be heard from Choi, An Chong-bum, a former presidential senior secretary for policy coordination, and Jeong Ho-seong, a former personal secretary to the president.

In Tuesday’s session, the National Assembly was represented by three lawmakers including Rep. Kweon Seong-dong, head of the Legislation and Judiciary Committee, and 11 other lawyers. Park was represented by nine lawyers.

The trial was open to the public. A total of 54 people watched the session from a gallery in the courtroom.

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]


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