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An unavoidable choice

Oct 16,2017
The Seoul Central District Court on Friday took the unavoidable step of renewing former President Park Geun-hye’s detention, citing the need for a speedy trial and the significance of her case involving an unprecedented abuse of power and corruption scandal together with her confidante Choi Soon-sil, which led to her ouster in March.

After the prosecution last month requested a six-month extension of her detention before it expires on Monday, Park’s lawyers vehemently resisted. With the court accepting the prosecution’s request, however, Park must undergo her criminal court trials while being behind bars for another six months — as late as Apr. 16, 2018, coincidently the fourth anniversary of the fatal Sewol ferry disaster.

The court based its decision on concerns about possible destruction of evidence. The law stipulates that a criminal court can issue an arrest warrant for suspects when they have no permanent residence or there is a possibility of their flight or destruction of evidence. The court’s measure also reflects its opposition to Choi’s defense lawyer Lee Kyung-jae’s argument that prosecutors citing potential obstruction of justice or flight as the reason for extending her detention should be ashamed of their acts.

The court also found nothing wrong with the prosecution’s step to extend her detention based on their newfound charges of Park taking indirect bribes from SK and Lotte. In earlier cases, the detention periods for Park’s accomplices were extended because their first trials could not end six months after their arrests.

The court’s decision is also aimed at a speedy and efficient trial. If Park, who has been denying all charges against her, is released from prison and does not appear in the court, her trial could protract endlessly. When she was not detained, Park chose not to appear before the independent counsel or the Constitutional Court as a defendant or witness.

After the court’ decision, the ruling Democratic Party welcomed it, saying it confirmed the integrity of our law. But the opposition Liberty Korea Party strongly criticized it, saying the court made the worst decision in the history of our judiciary. A spokesperson of the opposition complained that the court’s decision proves that even the judiciary is in the hands of the Moon Jae-in administration.

Despite the extension of Park’s detention, the case has a long way to go. Park faces a total of 18 charges and the prosecution’s investigation records amount to 120,000 pages, not to mention a need to investigate over 300 witnesses down the road. The public will accept it only when the court reaches a fair and transparent ruling.

JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 14, Page 30