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Wednesday 21 August 2019

Korea court says president not obliged to give evidence in impeachment trial

South Korea's Constitutional Court holds a preparatory meeting to review the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye on corruption charges (Yonhap/AP)
South Korea's Constitutional Court holds a preparatory meeting to review the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye on corruption charges (Yonhap/AP)

South Korea's Constitutional Court on Friday said it cannot require President Park Geun-hye to give evidence in her impeachment trial that enters the argument phase next week, dismissing demands by politicians who voted to remove her over a corruption scandal.

The nine-justice court on Friday confirmed the dates of some of the witness evidence. It delayed to decide whether to accept a request by Ms Park's lawyers to receive reports from companies answering whether they were really forced into sponsoring foundations controlled by the president's jailed friend, Choi Soon-sil.

Politicians, who are the prosecutors in an impeachment trial, argued that the request should not be made because it could pressure companies.

Ms Park's lawyers said the court needed to independently verify facts because they could not trust investigation results by state prosecutors, who accused Ms Park of colluding with Choi to extort money and favours from the country's largest companies and allow her friend to interfere with government affairs. Some experts see the lawyers' request as an effort to buy time.

The court said there was no way to force Ms Park to appear and that the impeachment trial can proceed without her physical presence.

South Korea's opposition-controlled parliament voted to impeach Ms Park on December 9 over the corruption scandal, and the court has up to six months to decide whether she should permanently step down or be reinstated.

During the impeachment trial, the court will also review politicians' accusations that Ms Park was responsible for media restrictions and government inaction during a 2014 ferry sinking that killed more than 300 people, mostly teenagers on a school trip.

State prosecutors have now passed the investigation to a special prosecution team, which on Friday summoned an arrested former presidential aide for the second time this week as they focus on proving bribery suspicions between Ms Park and the Samsung Group.

Ahn Jong-beom, Ms Park's former senior secretary for policy co-ordination, allegedly directed former health minister Moon Hyung-pyo to pressure the national pension service to support a merger between two Samsung affiliates last year.

The deal reduced the fund's stake in one of the companies by an estimated hundreds of millions of dollars in value, but allowed Samsung scion Lee Jae-yong to promote a generational transfer of leadership and increase corporate wealth at the group.

Investigators are trying to confirm that Ms Park instructed Mr Ahn to help the merger go through and then had him press Samsung to provide Choi money and favours.

Samsung is one of the main companies that gave a combined 77.4 billion won (64 million US dollars) to two non-profits Choi allegedly controlled and abused to expand her personal wealth.

Choi, Ahn and Jung Ho-sung, another arrested presidential aide accused of passing on confidential government information to Choi, will be called to give evidence on January 10.


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