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Park calls trial ‘political vendetta,’ attorneys resign en masse

Former President Park Geun-hye, who is standing trial over the corruption scandal that led to her ouster in March, unleashed pent-up frustration during a court hearing Monday, calling her case a “political vendetta.” 
Former president Park Geun-hye is escorted to the courtroom at the Seoul Central District Court to attend a hearing on Oct. 16, Monday, 2017. (Yonhap)
Former president Park Geun-hye is escorted to the courtroom at the Seoul Central District Court to attend a hearing on Oct. 16, Monday, 2017. (Yonhap)

Speaking at length for the first time since her trial began in May, Park said she could not “accept the court’s decision to extend” her detention, which was originally scheduled to end Monday but was extended by another six months by judges Friday.

Monday’s hearing was the first court session since the decision. It also coincided with what could have been the day of her release from a solitary cell in a detention center outside Seoul.

“I have spent a miserable time in jail for the trial in the last six months, and already lost all my dignity and life after a person betrayed the trust that I had given (to her) in the most unthinkable way,” she said at the Seoul Central District Court, reading a prepared text.

She was referring to Choi Soon-sil, her longtime friend and confidante who was at the center of the graft scandal. Park is accused of letting Choi -- a daughter of a cult leader who has held no public office -- meddle in state affairs and conspiring with her to extort money from large business groups, including Samsung. Choi is also being tried under detention.

“This political vendetta being carried out in the name of the law should not be repeated again,” Park said, in a clear show of dissatisfaction toward the court.

Park spoke in a calm voice, showing little emotions. Sobbing sounds were heard from audience seats.

“My detention warrant was supposed to expire today, but the court extended it, upholding the prosecution’s request to do so,” she went on, “It is hard to accept the court’s decision that additional detention is needed, and it could not help but evoke utter helplessness in my attorneys as well.”

Park’s seven-member legal team submitted en masse a written resignation to the court during the trial, saying they no longer had confidence that the court would rule in an impartial and reasonable manner.

Yoo Young-ha, one of Park’s attorneys who had been representing her since investigation into the scandal began, said they would be “leaving the defendant alone in the courtroom.”

Judges said their decision to extend Park’s custody should not be seen as a pre-judgement of her conviction and stressed that if Park is not legally represented, the trial cannot proceed.

If Park does not hire new lawyers, the court will have to just appoint one, legal experts said. In that case, the trial will inevitably stretch to next year, they said. A ruling was originally expected around November.

A public opinion survey released Monday, however, showed the public largely disagrees with Park’s view that she is a victim of a political revenge.

In a Realmeter poll conducted on 511 adults nationwide on Oct. 13, 65 percent of the respondents said ongoing investigations and trials over irregularities during the previous conservative administrations led by Park and her predecessor Lee Myung-bak are part of efforts to eradicate deep-rooted problems in the country’s politics.

Another 26.3 percent saw it as political vengeance by the new administration led by liberal President Moon Jae-in. Moon, who lost to Park in the 2012 presidential vote, won the by-election in May, which was necessitated by her impeachment, on promises to correct past wrongdoings and open up a new era of clean politics. 

By Bak Se-hwan (