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Seoul court will appoint public defender to Park

Oct 20,2017
The Seoul Central District Court will appoint a public defender for former President Park Geun-hye, it announced Thursday.

The court held a hearing in the morning, the first since Park’s seven lawyers resigned earlier this week to protest its decision to extend her detention until next April.

Park, who became the nation’s first democratically elected leader to be removed from office in March, and who is now standing trial for bribery, also opposed the decision, challenging the integrity of the court.

“During the last hearing, the court asked her lawyers to reconsider their resignation, taking into account the high-profile nature of the case and disadvantages Park will suffer,” said Judge Kim Se-yun.

“But they did not recant their decision, and Park did not appoint a new lawyer. She also did not show up for this hearing.”

Suspects standing trial who are under physical detention, or anyone accused of a charge punishable by more than three years in prison, are legally required to have legal representation.

Although Park did not receive money directly, prosecutors concluded in her April indictment that she received bribes worth 59.2 billion won ($52.04 million) from conglomerates in collusion with her longtime friend, Choi Soon-sil.

Kim said Thursday he will set the date for further hearings “when the public defender is ready,” noting that once appointed, he or she will have to take a considerable amount of time to get up to speed. Park’s trial involves more than 120,000 pages of documents. Her indictment paper alone is 154 pages.

Park submitted a note to the Seoul Detention Center on Wednesday saying she would not attend the scheduled hearing on Thursday.

“She wrote a brief note in handwriting that she cannot attend the hearing because she has no lawyers and her physical and mental conditions are too poor,” a source from the detention center told the JoongAng Ilbo. “It didn’t say whether she will attend future hearings or not.”

The court sill conducted a scheduled hearing for Choi, who showed up and read a statement in which she challenged her physical detention, saying she has been held in a room with CCTV for six to seven months and forced to use a toilet without privacy. She also said she was barred from having visitors.

“If there had been torture, I would have died like [Otto] Warmbier,” Choi continued, referring to the American university student who was arrested and imprisoned in North Korea, then released in a comatose state after 17 months. He died in June. “It’s lucky I haven’t lost my mind.”

The court said the trial was taking so long because it involves many charges and massive investigation records submitted by the prosecution. “We will operate the trial speedily in order to minimize your detention,” Kim said.

The court also told Choi that it is unreasonable to blame the prosecution for the slow progress because the court is forced to examine all the evidence submitted by the prosecution since her lawyer refused to accept them during the pretrial hearings.

Meanwhile, supporters of Park said they will hold a massive rally in central Seoul during the weekend. About 7,000 are expected to attend the demonstration, perhaps the largest since the Moon Jae-in administration’s launch.

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