February 17, 2017 12:18
The Constitutional Court said Thursday it plans to wrap up the impeachment trial of President Park Geun-hye on Feb. 24.
Acting Chief Justice Lee Jung-mi said, "We cannot carry on with the trial for years. Already the leadership vacuum and social confusion has been continuing for more than two months after the authority of the president was suspended."
Park's lawyers, who have mostly staked their fortunes on dragging out proceedings, protested and demanded more time, but Lee only said she would "discuss it."
Pundits do not expect the court to extend the envisioned deadline since it seems to hope that it can reach a verdict before Lee retires on March 13. In previous cases, the court has tended to take around two weeks after the end of proceedings to reach a ruling.
The court has held 14 sessions since Dec. 9, 2016 when the National Assembly voted to impeach Park. Two more are scheduled this month. The court has already told the prosecution and defense to submit their final arguments by Feb. 23.
In other signs of impatience with the stalling of Park's camp, the court has recently simply canceled the selection of witnesses named by the defense if they failed to show up. On Tuesday, three out of four witnesses selected by the defense at the 11th hour failed to turn up, and the same thing happened on Thursday.
Park's lawyers asked for another chance to summon the no-shows, but the court declined. Lee said they were "minor" witnesses and it is unnecessary to call more.
Park's lawyers also tried to swamp the court with some 2,300 audio recordings of phone calls made by Koh Young-tae, a former gigolo and drinking buddy of Park's crony Choi Soon-sil.
But Judge Kang Il-won, who chairs the trial, rejected the proposal saying the tapes are "not directly related to the reasons for impeachment." Apparently they relate mostly to squabbling among Choi and her cronies after the offenses with which Park is charged.
Park's lawyers were furious. Lee Dong-heup, a former Constitutional Court judge who recently joined her defense, said, "Even ordinary trials are not held in this manner. We need to be given at least five to seven days to prepare our final argument."
Lee Joong-hwan, another defense lawyer, said, "It is extremely dangerous to reach a decision in a hurry since there are 13 grounds for impeachment being cited and 50,000 pages of records related to the investigation by prosecutors."
Kang offered to discuss the complaints of the defense, but Lee told them to submit their final arguments by the deadline. "There is nothing particularly new that could emerge," she added.
The National Assembly panel acting as the prosecution was elated. Panel member Kwon Sung-dong told reporters, "We hope that the leadership vacuum which has continued for more than two months will end quickly."
Park's lawyers told reporters that they will discuss with the president whether she will attend the final hearing. A court official said if she decides to attend, the court "will decide whether to give her a chance to testify."
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