SEOUL, South Korea – South Korea’s Constitutional Court on Tuesday, January 3, held its first full hearing on whether to confirm the impeachment of President Park Geun-Hye but she stayed away from the session.
The 9-judge court must decide whether to affirm parliament’s vote on December 9 to impeach Park over a corruption scandal which has brought hundreds of thousands of protesters onto the streets every week.
Tuesday’s hearing, which followed 3 preparatory court sessions last month, lasted only 9 minutes.
The court last week ruled that Park was not required to appear for questioning.
“We will do our best to conduct a fair and thorough review of the case,” said Judge Park Han-Chul.
Regardless of whether Park shows up when the hearing resumes Thursday, January 5, the case will go ahead.
Her lawyers said she was unlikely to attend future hearings.
Park has been suspended from executive duties and the country is being temporarily led by Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-Ahn.
The Constitutional Court has up to 6 months to decide whether to confirm Park’s impeachment. If it does, a presidential election must be held within two months.
Park is accused of colluding with close friend Choi Soon-Sil to coerce big companies into handing over nearly $70 million to dubious foundations which Choi controlled and allegedly plundered.
Choi – dubbed South Korea’s “Rasputin” due to her influence over the president – is now on trial for coercion and abuse of power and her daughter has been detained in Denmark as the scandal spreads.
Park has repeatedly denied the corruption allegations in sometimes tearful televised addresses, while apologizing for lapses.
She allegedly ordered aides to leak state documents to Choi, who has no official title or security clearance, and let her meddle in state affairs including the appointment of top officials.
On Sunday, January 1, the scandal enmeshed Chung Yoo-Ra, Choi’s 20-year-old daughter, who was arrested in Denmark for overstaying her visa.
Seoul prosecutors said Tuesday they would seek Chung’s formal extradition even if she wants to return home voluntarily.
A court in the northern Danish town of Aalborg ruled Monday, January 2, that Chung would be detained for 4 weeks pending a decision on extradition.
“Chung has said she is willing to return home voluntarily within 3 days on condition that she be released immediately in Denmark,” said a spokesman for the Seoul special prosecutor’s office investigating the scandal.
“But we rejected the offer. We plan to have her extradited officially,” he said.
Among other allegations, Chung’s mother is accused of using her influence to secure her daughter’s admission to the elite Ewha Womans University.
A state probe into the scandal has revealed that the school admitted Chung at the expense of better qualified candidates, touching a raw nerve in education-obsessed South Korea.
Prosecutors want to question Chung over her admission to the university in 2014.
During the court hearing in Denmark Chung denied any wrongdoing and said her mother on 3 different occasions had simply shown her “some documents” that she had signed, according to news agency Ritzau.
Chung tearfully asked the court not to detain her, saying she was worried about her 19-month-old son who was staying with a nanny, it added.
The equestrian performer, who has reportedly bought horses and trained in Denmark in the past, told police she was in the country due to her involvement in the sport.
Denmark’s Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions said it is awaiting a formal extradition request from Seoul.
Several professors at Ewha, including a former school president, have been investigated for giving Chung preferential treatment.
Top managers of South Korea’s biggest conglomerate Samsung have also been probed following accusations the firm indirectly bankrolled Chung’s equestrian training overseas to try to curry favor. – Rappler.com