S. Korea president stays away from impeachment hearing

AFP , Tuesday 3 Jan 2017

Nine judges of South Korea's Constitutional Court sit during the first hearing arguments for South Korean President Park Geun-hye's impeachment trial at the Constitutional Court in Seoul, South Korea, January 3, 2017 (Photo: Reuters)

South Korea's Constitutional Court on Tuesday held its first full hearing on whether to confirm the impeachment of President Park Geun-Hye but she stayed away from the session.

The hearing, which followed three preparatory court sessions last month, lasted only nine minutes before being wrapped up.

The court last week ruled that Park was not required to appear for questioning.

"We will do our best to conduct a fair and through review of the case," said Park Han-Chul, the top justice who led a nine-member panel reviewing the case.

Regardless of whether Park shows up when the hearing resumes Thursday, the case will proceed.

Her lawyers said she was unlikely to attend future hearings.

Parliament voted on December 9 to impeach Park over a corruption scandal which has brought hundreds of thousands of protesters onto the streets every week.

She has been suspended from executive duties and the country is being temporarily led by Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-Ahn.

Park is accused of colluding with close friend Choi Soon-Sil to strong-arm big companies into handing over tens of millions of dollars to dubious foundations which Choi controlled.

Choi is now on trial for coercion and abuse of power, largely related to the corporate funding of the two foundations which she allegedly plundered.

The Constitutional Court has up to six months to decide whether to confirm Park's impeachment. If it does, a presidential election must be held within two months.

Park has repeatedly denied the corruption allegations in sometimes tearful televised addresses, while apologising for lapses.

She also 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.

In addition to corruption allegations, Park's conservative government is accused of blacklisting artists critical of its policies.

There have also been accusations that she failed to respond properly to the 2014 Sewol ferry disaster that took more than 300 lives, mostly schoolchildren.

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