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Park to make first court appearance

May 09,2017
The trial of former President Park Geun-hye will pick up speed later this month as she makes her first appearance in the courtroom for the opening hearing.

The Seoul Central District Court scheduled the first hearing of Park’s trial for May 23. The preliminary hearing for Park’s criminal trial, in which she stood accused of receiving or demanding 59.2 billion won ($52.3 million) in bribes from conglomerates, took place on May 2.

Because she is not required to attend the preliminary hearing, Park did not show up for the session last week. But she is required to attend the opening hearing of the trial on May 23. At the opening hearing, Park is expected to face her accomplice, Choi Soon-sil, in the courtroom. Choi, Park’s longtime confidante, was prosecuted late last year on charges of colluding with Park and abusing power to receive bribes from conglomerates, including Samsung and Lotte.

Park, Korea’s first leader to be impeached and removed from office, is the third former president of the country to stand trial for bribery.

At the preliminary hearing, her lawyers denied all 18 charges against her. She was indicted in April for alleged crimes committed during her failed presidency, including accepting bribes from the country’s largest conglomerates. Although Park did not receive money directly, prosecutors concluded that she received bribes from conglomerates in collusion with Choi.

The Seoul Central District Court is expected to conclude the trial before the six-month detention period of the former president ends on Oct. 16. If no ruling is made before then, the trial will go on without keeping her behind the bar.

The court decided to combine the trials of Park and Choi on bribery charges. Hearings will take place every Monday and Tuesday starting May 23 and additional sessions will also take place, and the court will likely end up having up to four sessions to rule on the case before October.

One of Choi’s lawyers, Lee Kyung-jae, argued at the preliminary hearing last week that Choi and Park should be tried separately because it will “inflict unbearable pains” to his client. The court did not accept the request for the effectiveness of operating the trials.

The detention of Lee Jae-yong, vice chairman of Samsung Electronics prosecuted on charges of bribing Park through Choi, will expire at the end of August, and the ruling on his case will likely be made before Park’s trial ends.

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]