Court urges Park to decide on impeachment hearing attendance

The Constitutional Court urged President Park Geun-hye on Monday to decide whether she will attend her final impeachment hearing, indicating it won't accept attempts to delay the trial, the Yonhap.

This photo shows the 15th hearing of President Park Geun-hye's impeachment trial at the Constitutional Court in Seoul on Feb. 20, 2017. (Yonhap)

Acting Chief Justice Lee Jung-mi issued the call during the 15th hearing that was , held in Park's absence, saying her lawyers should stop stalling and respond by Wednesday whether the president plans to attend the final session or not.

Depending on her decision, the court will determine whether to hold the final hearing Friday as planned, or postpone it to March 2 or 3 as requested by the lawyers, Lee said.

"Please confirm the president's attendance or absence before the next hearing (Wednesday)," Lee said. "There are various things we need to prepare, including issues of courtesy, as it concerns the attendance of a president, not an ordinary citizen."

   The president faces charges of letting her friend Choi Soon-sil meddle in state affairs, as well as colluding with her to extort money from Samsung and other conglomerates. She is also accused of neglecting her duty during the 2014 ferry sinking that killed more than 300 people.

Park and her lawyers have long debated the issue of whether she should appear at her final impeachment hearing to plead innocent. It could help rally her supporters and shift the court's ruling in her favor, but there are also concerns she could fail to properly respond to questions from justices and the National Assembly impeachment panel.

Lee made clear that the justices and the parliamentary panel will have the right to ask questions under relevant laws.

"It will be to the president's advantage to actively respond to questions," she said, adding that the court will not accept requests to schedule an additional hearing for the president after the final one has concluded.

"The president must attend (a hearing) on a date scheduled by the court," she said.

The court also rejected the lawyers' request to again summon Ko Young-tae, a former associate of Choi, who they suspect triggered the influence-peddling scandal and the president's impeachment out of spite after his plans to take over Choi's businesses failed. Ko has ignored repeated summonses by the court.

A request to adopt audio recordings of Ko's phone conversations as valid evidence in the trial was also turned down.

Park's lawyers immediately questioned the fairness of the proceedings.

"We think it is very regrettable," Lee Joong-hwan, an attorney for the president, said in a press conference after the hearing. "Would it be good for our national status if the president were to be questioned in court?"

   Under the current timetable, expectations are high that the court will deliver a verdict by March 13 before Justice Lee retires and creates a second vacancy on the nine-member bench. This is because justices are expected to take up to two weeks to finalize the proceedings after hearing the final appeal.

After March 13, chances are higher that Park will be reinstated with only two justices required to reject her impeachment instead of three. Park's ouster requires the approval of at least six justices.

The first vacancy was created upon the retirement of Chief Justice Park Han-chul last month.

If Park is ousted, South Korea is required to hold a presidential by-election within 60 days. If she is reinstated, an election will be held in December as scheduled.

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