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Impeachment Trial of South Korea President Called Mob Justice


President Park Geun-hye of South Korea at a meeting with reporters in the country’s capital, Seoul, on Sunday. The Constitutional Court has until June to decide if the National Assembly’s Dec. 9 vote to impeach Ms. Park was justified. Credit South Korean Presidency, via Associated Press

SEOUL, South Korea — Oral arguments began on Thursday in the impeachment trial of President Park Geun-hye of South Korea, with one of her lawyers saying that she was a victim of mob justice and comparing her trial with those of Christ and Socrates.

“Socrates was put to death, and Jesus crucified, in mob trials,” the lawyer, Seo Seok-gu, told the Constitutional Court, denouncing the National Assembly’s vote to impeach Ms. Park and criticizing local news coverage of the corruption scandal that has engulfed her in recent months. “Our democracy is in danger because of so-called majority opinion instigated through demagogy,” he said.

The Constitutional Court has until June to decide whether the National Assembly’s Dec. 9 vote to impeach Ms. Park was justified; if so, the president, whose powers have been suspended, will be formally removed from office.

Ms. Park did not appear in court on Thursday. Her lawyers have said that she does not plan to attend the proceedings.

The National Assembly, South Korea’s legislature, has accused Ms. Park of conspiring with a longtime friend and confidante, Choi Soon-sil, to extort $ 69 million from big businesses in return for political favors, like presidential pardons for company leaders convicted of corruption. Ms. Choi, who has been portrayed as a Rasputin-like figure in Ms. Park’s presidential Blue House, has been indicted on charges of corruption, and prosecutors have named Ms. Park as an accomplice, though she cannot be indicted while in office.

In a separate hearing at a Seoul district court on Thursday, Ms. Choi denied the charges against her, calling them unfair.

The legislature has also accused Ms. Park of undermining freedom of the press by cracking down on her critics in the news media, and of failing to protect citizens in a 2014 ferry disaster that killed more than 300 people. Ms. Park’s approval ratings fell to record lows for a South Korean president before the National Assembly voted for impeachment, and enormous crowds have gathered in central Seoul on a weekly basis calling for an end to her presidency.


Yoon Jeon-chu, center, Ms. Park’s physical trainer and personal secretary, testified at the president’s impeachment trial in Seoul on Thursday. Credit Lee Jin-Man/Associated Press

Kweon Seong-dong, the lead attorney arguing for impeachment on behalf of the National Assembly, told the court on Thursday that the accusations against Ms. Park amounted to a “wide range of serious violations” of the law and of the Constitution.

“Through this trial, we must confirm a constitutional principle that we cannot tolerate a president who abuses power and betrays the trust of the people,” Mr. Kweon said.

But Ms. Park’s lead attorney, Lee Joong-hwan, said there were no legal grounds for impeachment, citing what he called a lack of evidence. He said Ms. Park had made some “trivial” mistakes — like seeking feedback on some of her speeches from Ms. Choi, who held no official post — but that none were serious enough to warrant removal from office.

The most dramatic argument on Ms. Park’s behalf, however, came from Mr. Seo. Besides referring to Christ and Socrates, he argued that the anti-Park rallies in central Seoul had been organized by communists who sympathize with North Korea, a belief held by some of the president’s older, conservative supporters. “Their candlelight protests didn’t reflect the true sentiments of the people,” he said.

Mr. Seo also appealed for “God’s blessings” to protect the court from communist influences. Many of Ms. Park’s remaining supporters are vocal Christians; outside the court on Thursday, a few of them read from Bibles and prayed for the president.

The Constitutional Court had hoped to hear testimony on Thursday from four of Ms. Park’s former and current aides, but only one appeared: Yoon Jeon-chu, the president’s physical trainer and personal secretary. The court cannot compel witnesses to testify, though they can be penalized if they refuse a summons.

Ms. Yoon did not answer many of the prosecutors’ questions, citing poor memory or an obligation not to divulge secrets. But she provided a detailed account of having delivered payments for dresses that Ms. Choi had ordered for the president, to wear on overseas trips.

South Korean news media have alleged that those dresses might have amounted to bribes from Ms. Choi, though the president’s office said Ms. Park had paid for them; Ms. Yoon said she had paid a dress shop for them on Ms. Park’s instructions, though she said she did not get receipts.

If the court removes Ms. Park from office, she would be the first president in South Korea to fail to complete a full term since the country became a democracy. An election would then be held in 60 days to choose her successor.

Source: NYT > World

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