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Court begins pretrial process on President's impeachment

South Korea’s Constitutional Court on Monday began preparations for the impeachment trial of President Park Geun-hye, holding the first assembly of its justices.

The meeting was attended by eight of the nine judges, including Kang Il-won, who will lead the coming trial as head justice. They discussed the formation of a task force, the hearings schedule and other related issues, the court’s spokesperson said.
Park Han-chul (left), head of the Constitutional Court, arrives at the court in Seoul on Monday, for the first full bench meeting on the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye. (Yonhap)
Park Han-chul (left), head of the Constitutional Court, arrives at the court in Seoul on Monday, for the first full bench meeting on the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye. (Yonhap)
Judge Kim Yi-su was unable to attend the meeting due to an overseas business trip.

“The first hearing date has not been fixed yet,” court spokesperson Bae Bo-yoon said during a press briefing at the court in Seoul on Monday.

“(The impeachment trial) requires a lot of discussions at the pretrial stage as there are many issues to be addressed.”

The justices decided to form a special team of 20 constitutional researchers to review materials and examine records by no later than this week.

They also asked Park to submit answers to the court’s questionnaire by Friday for to enable the trial to proceed quickly.

“We also requested the Ministry of Justice and the National Assembly to submit a written opinion on the case to help us understand what is at stake, just like we normally do for any other case,” Bae said.

Two to three of the justices will be chosen to focus on investigating the evidence. The court will then set dates for hearings, the official explained.

Some legal experts raised the possibility that the court could rule before fully deliberating all of the charges brought against the president, if it finds sufficient legal grounds for Park’s removal. 

However, the justices decided against the idea, Bae said.

“The court will have to review all of the charges listed (against Park) to make a ruling.” 

The National Assembly, which impeached Park on Friday over a corruption scandal, listed 18 breaches of the Constitution and laws as grounds for her dismissal.

The nine-member court has up to 180 days to rule weather the charges warrant Park’s removal from office. Justices are expected to summon Park and question witnesses regarding the case.

The president is accused of allowing her civilian friend Choi Soon-sil, and Choi’s associates, to meddle in state affairs and colluding with Choi and others to force private businesses to make sizable donations and give contracts to certain companies. She is also alleged to have leaked confidential information to Choi and neglected her duty to protect the lives of the people when the Sewol ferry sank in 2014, which left over 300 people dead or missing. Park denies all of the charges.

In the meantime, National Assembly Speaker Chung Sye-kyun expressed hopes Monday that the Constitutional Court will quickly review the impeachment of President Park to help put the country back on track.

“We need to stabilize state affairs and the lives of the people. The paralysis of state affairs should not last long,” Chung said, adding he expects the court to come to a wise solution in the near future.

Chung also called on lawmakers to lead national efforts to root out corruption and establish a new state system.

“The people have been asking for not only the impeachment, but the establishment of a new Republic of Korea,” Chung said.

Lawmakers should take the first step for national reform by dropping their privileges, he added.

By Kim Da-sol (ddd@heraldcorp.com) and news reports
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