December 05, 2016 12:37
President Park Geun-hye is approaching crunch time with an impeachment vote scheduled Friday and a National Assembly committee starting hearings on the crony scandal that has engulfed her.
On Monday, the committee probing the scandal will hear from officials from Cheong Wa Dae and other ministry officials. On Tuesday, it will question the heads of the country's nine biggest conglomerates including Samsung chief Lee Jae-yong, Hyundai Motor chairman Chung Mong-koo, LG chairman Koo Bon-moo, SK chairman Chey Tae-won and Lotte chairman Shin Dong-bin.
Lawmakers will want to know if Cheong Wa Dae and Park herself leaned on them to make donations to two dodgy nonprofit foundations controlled by Park's long-time friend Choi Soon-sil.
In a second hearing on Friday they want to question Choi, her drinking buddy Cha Eun-taek, a promo director who came to baffling prominence since Park took office, and former Cheong Wa Dae secretaries accused of colluding with the pair.
The impeachment vote the same day could turn on what the suspects tell lawmakers, but most of them are not expected to appear because they are under arrest.
Saenuri Party lawmaker Kim Sung-tae, who heads the committee, said there is no way for lawmakers to force them to appear, though witnesses who refuse to abide by summonses by the National Assembly face up to three years in jail or a fine of up to W10 million (US$1=W1,172). The National Assembly regularly metes out fines of W5-7 million on people who refuse to obey summonses, but for most that is peanuts and the suspects may feel they have little to lose.
Wednesday, meanwhile, is the deadline Saenuri lawmakers, who do not support Park, have given the president to name her own date for her exit.
But the record number of people who flooded the streets of downtown Seoul again over the weekend calling for Park's ouster has rattled them, and they pledged Sunday to vote for impeachment unless the ruling and opposition parties can agree on an exit date.
The impeachment motion is being proposed by 171 opposition lawmakers, but it needs at least 29 Saenuri lawmakers to reach the required two-thirds majority.
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