Emptying court offers Park Geun Hye lifeline

President Park (left) was impeached by Parliament last December over a corruption scandal involving her long-time friend Choi Soon Sil.
President Park (above) was impeached by Parliament last December over a corruption scandal involving her long-time friend Choi Soon Sil.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

S. Korean President's lawyers using delaying tactics with another judge set to exit: Analysts

SEOUL • South Korean President Park Geun Hye is trying to run out the clock in her impeachment trial, analysts said, warning of a public uproar if her lawyers' delaying tactics succeed.

Ms Park was impeached by Parliament last December over a corruption scandal that tapped mounting economic and social frustrations, and saw millions of people protesting against her weekly.

The Constitutional Court in Seoul is now deliberating whether to uphold the impeachment, which would trigger new elections, or to allow her to see out her five-year term.

It has until June to issue a ruling.

Ms Park has not been formally charged for any wrongdoing, as the president's office confers immunity - except for subversion or treason.

However, she has been named as an accomplice to her long-time friend Choi Soon Sil under an indictment filed against the latter.

Ms Park has refused to be questioned either by prosecutors or an independent team of investigators.

 

Critics say her lawyers have been stalling the process, filibustering and calling up irrelevant witnesses.

Last month, her counsel threatened to resign en masse when the court allowed them to call only 10 witnesses, instead of 39.

The delays, analysts said, could offer Ms Park a political lifeline.

The Chief Justice retired last week, leaving an empty red-backed chair at the end of the Constitutional Court's bench, while another judge will step down at the end of her term in little over a month.

By law, six votes - a two-thirds majority of the full nine-member court bench - will be needed to uphold the impeachment, no matter how many judges are sitting.

This effectively means that from March 14, Ms Park will need the backing of only two justices to return to the presidential Blue House.

"For this reason, there are ample reasons for Ms Park's side to seek to delay the verdict as long as possible," said Yonsei University law professor Kim Jong Cheol.

The outgoing judges can be replaced only after the impeachment hearing, and analysts said Ms Park appears to be pinning her hopes on some members' loyalties.

The court is holding as many as three hearings a week - an unprecedented pace - with sessions sometimes stretching late into the night.

This week, it agreed to hear from another eight defence witnesses, stretching the case further.

Ms Park's lawyer Lee Joong Hwan said two months was too short for an impeachment case.

Another of Ms Park's lawyers, Mr Son Beom Kyu, said: "As time passes, the attackers' supply lines will get outstretched and ultimately reach their limit. Then the defenders can turn the tables on them."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 10, 2017, with the headline 'Emptying court offers Park lifeline'. Print Edition | Subscribe