Constitutional Court tells Park’s lawyers to stop stalling

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Constitutional Court tells Park’s lawyers to stop stalling

The Constitutional Court Monday shot down attempts by President Park Geun-hye’s lawyers to prolong her impeachment trial, sending a clear signal that it will wrap up the case swiftly, with a possible ruling in March.

At the 15th hearing in Park’s impeachment trial, the court demanded her lawyers inform it by Wednesday if the president will make an appearance or not.

“She is no ordinary person, and we need to make preparation if the president comes,” Acting Chief Justice Lee Jung-mi said. “Taking this into account, inform us by the next hearing if she will attend or not.”

Lee, however, made clear that Park must show up on a date that the court designates. “If she decides to come after closing arguments, we cannot allow it,” Lee said. As of now, closing arguments are scheduled for Friday.

Lee said the judges will consider Park’s lawyers’ request to delay the closing argument date to March 2 or 3 and announce their decision later.

Last week, the court scheduled closing arguments for Friday, fueling speculation that a ruling will be made before Lee retires from the bench on March 13. Following Monday’s hearing, Wednesday will be the only hearing before the closing arguments. Judges will, then, make deliberations, hold a vote and come to a verdict. That process is expected to take about two weeks.

Park was impeached in December on charges of allowing her secret inner circle, including longtime friend Choi Soon-sil, to interfere in state affairs. She was also accused of failing to protect the lives of more than 300 people during the Sewol ferry’s sinking in April 2014.

The court also made clear that Park, if she shows up, will be questioned by the judges and the impeachment committee of the National Assembly, which acts as the prosecution in the trial. Park’s lawyers have argued that the president has the right to make a closing argument without being questioned in the courtroom.

The court issued a legal interpretation on Monday shooting down that argument. “Based on our study, Article 29 of the Constitutional Court Act is valid for the closing arguments,” Justice Lee said. “If she attends, the judges and the impeachment committee can question her.”

Lee said the court strongly advises Park to attend her trial. “The court believes that if she decides to come, she must actively answer the questions of the judges and the impeachment committee to allow us to understand the case and to clarify her position,” Lee said.

The court also struck down Park’s lawyers’ request to call Ko Young-tae, a former business partner of Choi, again as a witness. It also rejected their request to play recordings of Ko’s conversations with his associates in the court.

Park’s lawyers previously argued that the president is an innocent victim of a love affair gone wrong between Ko and Choi. They said Ko, a 40-year-old former fencing champion, fed media distorted facts after his relationship with Choi ended and the scandal against the president started.

“We’ve read the transcripts and also listened to the files,” Justice Kang Il-won said. “They are overlapping evidence.” Kang said there is no need to play the recording in the courtroom.

The court also canceled witnesses who failed to show up for the hearing. Kim Ki-choon, former presidential chief of staff, and Choi Sang-mok, vice finance minister, were scheduled to testify on Monday but did not show up.

By removing them from the witness list, the court does not have to reschedule their hearings. Although Park’s lawyers said Kim would be able to testify on Friday, when closing arguments are scheduled, Acting Chief Justice Lee said Kim is not a key witness and the court already gave him two chances.

Vice Minister Choi was a no show because of an overseas business trip. Speculation was high that the court would reschedule his hearing, but it removed him from the witness list, saying it already heard enough testimony from Bang Ki-sun, former Blue House staffer, on Monday.

The court sternly warned Park’s lawyers’ against stalling tactics.

Following the hearing, Park’s lawyers were asked if they thought Park should make an appearance to her own defense. Lee Joong-hwan, one of the lawyers, said he will talk to her.

“But will it be good for the country’s dignity for the president to be questioned in the courtroom?” he asked.

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