KH explains: Park Geun-hye’s trial

By Lee Sun-young
  • Published : Nov 27, 2017 - 16:45
  • Updated : Nov 27, 2017 - 16:45
Former President Park Geun-hye on Monday refused to attend a hearing in her trial, making good on an earlier pledge to boycott the process. The Korea Herald explains possible motives behind her boycott and what is likely to happen next. 

One of five public lawyers assigned by the court to former President Park Geun-hye takes questions Monday at Seoul Central District Court in Seoul. Yonhap

1. Things to know about Park Geun-hye and her trial

Park Geun-hye was South Korea’s conservative icon and first female president until her reign was toppled in March this year by massive public protests over a scandal involving her longtime confidante Choi Soon-sil and the country’s largest conglomerate Samsung.

Just weeks after her fall from power, Park, 65, was arrested and indicted for a total of 18 charges, including bribery, coercion, abuse of power and the leakage of government secrets. She remains in solitary confinement at a correction facility just south of Seoul.

Park’s former rival in the presidential race, Moon Jae-in, now occupies the Blue House, strongly pushing for liberal reforms on the back of his popularity.

Earlier this month, Park’s home party, Liberty Korea Party, terminated Park’s party membership, formally severing ties with her.

2. What if Park continues the boycott?

Park can still be tried in absentia. 

Former President Park Geun-hye. Yonhap

According to Korean criminal law, hearings can go on without the presence of a defendant in circumstances whereby he or she has failed to perform a court-ordered action.

Lead Judge Kim Se-yoon on Monday hinted at a trial in absentia for Park, saying the court would decide Tuesday how to proceed with the trial process if Park continues to not show up. Park’s attorneys, appointed by the court after her initial defense team resigned, would still represent her in the courtroom.

“(Refusal to attend trial hearings) will do more harm than good to the defendant because she is denying herself the right to protect her own legal interests,” said Nam Kyoung-kook, a constitutional scholar at the University of Seoul Law School.

3. Who is defending Park now?

Park’s seven-lawyer defense team resigned en masse on Oct. 16, after the court rejected their request for Park to be tried without detention once the detention warrant expired. They called the judges and their decision “biased” and the trial “meaningless.”

Park then refused to appoint new attorneys and said she would boycott the trial altogether.

On Oct. 26, the court assigned five public lawyers to the former president, but she has refused to meet with them. The five attorneys have six to 31 years of experience in legal practice each, according to the court.

Outside the courtroom and outside South Korea, Park is receiving backing from international legal team MH Group, which last month made claims that she has been mistreated in jail and made clear its plan to bring her case to an international court.

4. Does a boycott mean Park has given up fighting?

Many in legal and political circles believe Park’s boycott of the trial is a calculated move to later reject any ruling unfavorable to her.

The role of MH Group, which previously represented Saif Gadhafi, the son of the late Libyan leader who was freed from jail after six years in a move at amnesty, is to mount international pressure on Korean authorities to make a similar exit for her.

Domestically, with local elections scheduled for June, some political watchers say Park may be attempting to cast herself as a martyr and victim of the liberals’ political revenge against conservatives and solidify conservative support behind her. 

5. What is the outlook on Park‘s trial?

The courts have found other suspects in Park’s scandal guilty, and have passed down prison terms to the majority of the defendants.

While they continue to appeal, Park’s former chief of staff Kim Ki-choon, as well as a number of former senior presidential aides have been found guilty on one or more charges that range from abuse of power and bribery to blacklisting of those critical of the administration. Choi Soon-sil, the alleged architect of the far reaching network of corruption, has been found guilty of illegally gaining a university place for her daughter, and awaits ruling on bribery charges.

On the charge regarding university entrance, Choi has been sentenced to three years in prison and the first bribery trial is set to come to an end next month. Samsung Electronic Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong was found guilty of bribery, and is currently appealing the ruling.

If found guilty of receiving bribes, Park could face 10 years to life imprisonment.

By Lee Sun-young, Choi He-suk & Bak Se-hwan ( ( (