Prosecuting lawmakers accused South Korean President Park Geun-hye of “broadly and gravely” violating the constitution as the Constitutional Court began hearing oral arguments in her impeachment trial yesterday.
While the lawmakers, functioning as prosecutors in the trial, argued that Park should be removed from the presidency, her lawyers said the accusations lacked evidence.
Park is accused of colluding with a longtime friend to extort money and favors from companies and allowing her friend to interfere in government affairs.
As the impeachment hearing was taking place, Park’s friend, Choi Soon-sil, appeared in another court in Seoul where she told the judge she denies the allegations against her. Also in the courtroom were former presidential secretaries Ahn Jong-beom, who is alleged to have pressured companies which gave tens of millions of dollars to foundations Choi controlled, and Jung Ho-sung, charged with passing government secrets to Choi, such as information on ministerial candidates.
The chief prosecutor, Kweon Seong-dong, said Park abused her position by “broadly and gravely” violating the constitution to commit corruption and turn state affairs into a profit tool for her friend. He said Park must be removed from office to repair the damage caused to the country’s democracy.
Parliament voted on December 9 to impeach Park, suspending her powers and making the prime minister the government caretaker. The Constitutional Court has less than six months to decide if Park should be removed or reinstated, and if it removes her, an election has to be held within 60 days.
Park’s lawyer, Lee Joong-hwan, said the accusations stated in the impeachment bill “lack evidence and fail to make legal sense” because they were based on allegations and media reports, not criminal convictions.
The hearing proceeded without Park, who refused to testify for the second time and cannot be forced to do so. The court had planned to hear testimony from four of Park’s former and current aides suspected of helping Choi, but only one appeared.
Besides the corruption allegations, the court will also hear accusations included in the impeachment bill that blame Park for restrictions on media reporting and for inaction during a 2014 ferry sinking that killed more than 300 passengers.
Yoon Jeon-chu, Park’s aide since 2013, did not answer directly most of the questions asking about her interactions with Choi and what Park did on the day of the ferry disaster.
Park has publicly apologized for putting her trust in Choi, but denied accusations she colluded with her friend in criminal activities.