Park should not impede her trial: The Korea Herald

In its editorial on Oct 19, the paper urges the former President to let the nation move on from the scandal that marred her tenure.

Supporters of South Korea's ousted president Park Geun Hye wave national flags during a rally demanding the release of Samsung heir Lee Jae Yong outside the Seoul Central District Court. PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL (THE KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - All the noise surrounding former President Park Geun-hye's trial reflects some of the problems deeply entrenched in our society.

The first one is the tendency of prosecutors to exploit their authority to seek detention of criminal suspects. Korean prosecutors investigating high-profile cases tend to link the success or failure of their work to whether they acquire court-issued arrest warrants for major suspects.

This time, as the first arrest warrant for Park that was issued six months ago has expired, the prosecution resorted to its usual way of raising new charges against Park - those related to bribery allegations involving conglomerates SK Group and Lotte Group - to extend her detention.

But one knows the allegations had already been part of a past investigation.

The prosecution argued that Park could still tamper with evidence regarding the allegations. Unfortunately, the court consented to the prosecution's view.

This should raise questions about the integrity of our judicial system.

Park, who was impeached and removed by the Constitutional Court, underwent successive investigation by the state prosecution and a special prosecutor. She then stood trial four times a week over the past six months, with numerous defendants and witnesses testifying. Some defendants implicated in the scandal have already been found guilty by the lower court.

This means the prosecution and the court would have little evidence that could be tampered with by Park even if she stood trial out of jail. As Park's defence lawyer Yoo Yeong-ha argued, the prosecution and the court once again ignored the principle of presumption of innocence and trials without detention for criminal suspects.

The court's decision to extend Park's detention, however, cannot and should not justify whatever action Park takes in protest. The last thing she should do is boycott the trial, which she has implicitly threatened.

In her first hearing since the court's decision to issue a new detention warrant, Park said that she had lost her belief that the court would hold the trial based only on the law and the judges' conscience despite what she called "outside political and public pressure."

Park gave a strong indication that she would give up her right to receive legal counsel as well, by saying that she would leave all matters related to future hearings with the court. Park's seven defense attorneys resigned en masse.

Obviously, the trial now faces a major hitch. Park may refuse to attend hearings. If she attends, the court still needs new defence lawyers for the defendant who will have to spend a substantial amount of time reading all the papers and documents filed by the prosecution and the court. It would not be easy for the court to hand out a verdict by the end of the year.

One more problem is that Park still insists that she did not do anything wrong and that she has only fallen victim to the political vendetta of her opponents.

Indeed, there are many political elements in the corruption and influence-peddling scandal that resulted in the first impeachment of a president here. It is also true that the government of President Moon Jae-in, who swept into power in the wake of the abrupt fall of Park, is digging into some past cases out of political motives. But it is total nonsense for Park to maintain that she is a pure victim of political strife.

The undisputable fact and truth of the case is that Park - as the Constitutional Court found when it impeached her - violated the law by entrusting her power and authority to a civilian confidante who peddled influence in pursuit of personal favours.

The court will make a judgment on each of the charges, which include abuse of power and bribery, and it is the duty of Park - as a former leader - to comply with the rule of law and to not impede court proceedings.

In addition, she should not attempt to rally her supporters to put pressure on the bench, which would further divide the nation.

The trial should end as soon as possible for the sake of leaving this shameful part of history behind. The nation has suffered enough.

The Korea Herald is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 23 news media entities.

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