December 23, 2016 12:07
The Constitutional Court in a preliminary hearing Thursday decided to limit the scope of proceedings as it weighs the impeachment bill against President Park Geun-hye. "We narrowed the reasons cited for impeachment in order to expedite a ruling," a court official said.
The court decided to focus on allegations that Park colluded with her longtime friend Choi Soon-sil to extort vast slush funds from the country's top conglomerates, and that she allowed Choi to meddle in government business.
It also called on Park to provide "without leaving anything unexplained" a full explanation of her seven-hour absence on the day of the 2014 ferry disaster that killed over 300 people, mostly teenagers.
Lee Jin-sung, one of three judges present, said pointedly, "Most citizens remember what they did on that tragic day. [The president] will also have a special memory."
The court decided to summon Choi as well as former presidential secretaries An Chong-bum and Jeong Ho-seong, who have been indicted for eagerly smoothing her path. It rejected a submission by Park's lawyers that it would be unconstitutional to review records of prosecutors’ investigation of Choi before she has been convicted of a crime.
Eight lawyers represented the National Assembly, which acts as the accuser in the case, and seven the president. All 70 seats in the court room were filled, and some had to watch standing up.
Lawyers for the National Assembly submitted 49 pieces of evidence supporting the impeachment bill, including prosecutors' written arraignment of Choi.
Park's attorneys submitted just three pieces of evidence, including remarks she made in support of small and mid-sized businesses -- they will have a bearing on charges that Park leaned on Hyundai to award a contract to a company run by a drinking buddy of Choi's.
Judge Kang Il-won divided the charges against Park into five types -- violation of the Constitution, abuse of authority, infringement on press freedom, breach of the right to life and criminal offenses including bribery.
The impeachment bill specified four legal offenses, but they were condensed into the single criminal offense. One former Constitutional Court judge said, "The National Assembly pointed out specific offenses allegedly committed by Park, but the court wants to review the reasons for impeachment as a whole rather than case-by-case."
All three Constitutional Court judges present at the session voiced the need for an expedited ruling.
Park's lawyers said she will not testify and is not required to.
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