Prosecutors on Tuesday sought a 30-year jail term and a 118.5 billion won fine for former President Park Geun-hye in the court hearing at the Seoul Central District Court, saying that Park privatized presidential authority to peddle influence and sully constitutional values. The demand came in 317 days after she was indicted on April 17 last year on 18 charges, becoming the first democratically-elected leader of this country to have been removed from office in a massive corruption scandal.
The first trial of the former president has been continuously delayed as prosecutors sought additional charges on Park last October and the court accordingly decided to extend her detention by a further six months. In protest of the court’s decision, Park declared that she would boycott the hearings amid chaos risen from the resignation of her legal team en masse and the designation of state-appointed lawyers. Not taking part in a total of 100 hearings thus far in attendance of 138 witnesses, Park did not show up to deliver her final testimony in Tuesday’s trial, either.
To put it shortly, this scandal resulted from the behavior of the country’s leader being blinded with the private relationship with her confidante and thereby violating the constitution and law, throwing the country into serious confusion. When declaring a ruling on Choi Soon-sil, Park’s longtime friend at the center of the scandal, two weeks ago, the court identified Park as an accomplice. While prosecutors had sought a 25-year jail term, Choi was sentenced to 20 years in prison. A word “president” appeared in the court’s sentencing of Choi as many as 1,244 times.
It is understandable, to some extent, that former President Park gave up an opportunity to defend herself and appeal for innocence, if she believes so, by refusing to attend hearings and deliver a final testimony. Her argument that the extension of detention goes against the principles of the criminal law and is likely to limit the right to defense also makes some sense. However, this trial does not just go away but will remain in history. Park, thus, should explicitly make public what she has to say about charges brought up against her such as bribery and abuse of power. Boycotting the trial is not a behavior that a former leader of the country with the sense of responsibility can present.
The court will deliver its ruling in late March or early April before the expiration deadline of April 16. By then, the trial on the unprecedented corruption scandal will be wrapped up, in which the former president privatized the authority entrusted by the people and became the first incumbent president in history to be removed from office and detained in prison. This is an unfortunate tragedy in the constitutional history that should never repeat itself. For the sake of records at least, former President Park should come out, prove herself and atone for wrongdoings, if any, in front of people. She must openly express her stance at the upcoming ruling by providing a final testimony or through her legal team. That is the least she can do as former leader to serve the country and people and minimize the scandal’s impact and resulting internal conflicts.