Ex-South Korean leader Park calls trial 'political vendetta', attorneys to resign en masse

Park Geun Hye arrives at a court in Seoul on Aug 25, 2017. Park said she could not "accept the court's decision to extend" her detention. PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL (THE KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Former President Park Geun Hye, standing trial over a sweeping corruption scandal that toppled her presidency in March, unleashed pent-up frustration during a court hearing on Monday (Oct 16), calling her case a "political vendetta".

Speaking at length for the first time since the trial began in May, Park said she could not "accept the court's decision to extend" her detention, originally scheduled to end on Monday but extended by another six months by her judges last Friday.

Monday's hearing was the first court session since the decision. It also coincided with what could have been the day of her release from a solitary cell in a detention centre outside Seoul.

"I have spent a miserable time in jail for trial in the last six months, and already lost all my dignity and life after a person betrayed the trust that I had given (to her) in the most unthinkable way," she said at the Seoul Central District Court, reading from a prepared text.

She was referring to Choi Soon Sil, her longtime friend and confidante who was at the epicentre of the graft scandal. Park is accused of letting Choi, a daughter of a cult leader who has held no public office, meddle in state affairs and conspiring with her to extort money from large business groups, including Samsung. Choi is also being tried under detention.

"This political vendetta being carried out in the name of the law should not be repeated again," Park said, in a clear show of dissatisfaction towards the court.

Park spoke in a calm voice, showing little emotion. Sobbing sounds were heard from the audience.

"My detention warrant was supposed to expire today, but the court extended it, upholding the prosecution's request to do so," she went on, "It is hard to accept the court's decision that additional detention is needed, and it could not help but evoke utter helplessness in my attorneys as well."

Park's legal team said they would resign en masse as they no longer have confidence that the court will rule in an impartial and reasonable manner.

Yoo Young Ha, one of Park's attorneys who has been representing her since investigations, confirmed the departure, saying they are "leaving the defendant alone in the courtroom".

Judges said that their decision to extend Park's custody should not be seen as a pre-judgment of her conviction and stressed that if Park is not legally represented, the trial cannot proceed.

Yoo or other lawyers in Park's defence have not yet submitted a written resignation to the court.

Should Park's representatives quit and not be replaced, the court would have to appoint one, legal experts said. In that case, the trial will inevitably stretch out to next year, they said. Originally, a ruling was expected around November.

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