Court dismisses Park Geun-hye’s explanation on missing 7 hours as ‘insufficient’
By Ock Hyun-ju
10 January 2017

SEOUL (The Korea Herald/ANN) - South Korea President Park Geun-hye defends her actions during the Sewol ferry disaster to no avail.

On the day the ferry Sewol sank, South Korea President Park Geun-hye began work at 9am at her home office due to her poor physical condition, and received reports via telephone, fax or documents delivered by hand. She spoke with her national security adviser on the phone for a total of seven times about the ferry accident, according to a 19-page document submitted by her lawyers for her impeachment trial Tuesday.
 
However, the document detailing the president’s actions on April 16, 2014 was dismissed by the Constitutional Court as “insufficient”, during the third hearing of her impeachment trial. 
 
Park’s alleged seven-hour absence and negligence of duty to save people’s lives during the maritime disaster, which left more than 300 people dead or missing, is one of the key reasons behind her impeachment on December 9 by the parliament.

The document features a timeline for the reports she received from her aides via documents or telephone and her instructions during the ferry disaster. 
 
But the Constitutional Court took issue with the explanation, saying it falls short of details on what Park was doing as she was being briefed during the sinking of the ferry, as well as when and how she first learned about the accident.

“We asked President Park to reveal what she did on the day, but the document appears to be insufficient (in explaining it). It only includes what orders she gave and what reports she received,” the court said, asking Park to “recall” her memories in order to clarify her actions while the ferry was capsizing. It asked her lawyers to supplement the document and submit it again.

Park’s lawyers claimed that Park took proper measures via telephone to handle the maritime accident, but they did not provide Park’s records of phone calls during the accident.

“The document said that the president made numerous phone calls with presidential aides, but only a written report sent to the president is attached,” said the court, asking Park’s lawyers to hand in the president’s phone records.

In the third formal hearing to review the legitimacy of Park’s impeachment, three key witnesses -- Park’s longtime friend Choi Soon-sil as well as ex-presidential aides Jeong Ho-seong and An Chong-bum -- were scheduled to testify before the court.

But they all refused to appear, citing the hearing’s possible impact on their own criminal trials.

In what appears to be a warning to the witnesses who have refused to testify before the justices, the court said it will forcibly bring in the witnesses if they fail to show up again at the upcoming hearings.

The court sternly renewed calls for cooperation from both the National Assembly’s impeachment committee and Park’s lawyers in submitting relevant documents and evidence in an apparent attempt to quicken court proceedings.

According to Park’s defense paper, submitted 19 days after the court’s request, Park was first briefed by presidential aides at 10am, one hour after the ferry started to capsize off the nation’s southwest coast.

Park worked from her residence at the presidential office, as she did not feel well that day and had no official schedule, the document said. She reviewed reports and was briefed about state affairs via email, fax and post.

She then learned at around 2:50pm from Kim Jang-soo -- who was then national security secretary -- that the news reports about 370 passengers being rescued from the sinking ferry were incorrect. The president decided to visit the central disaster headquarters at around 3pm and made her first public appearance that day at 5:15pm.

Only a nursing officer and hair stylist visited her residence while the ferry was sinking, according to the document.

The National Assembly’s impeachment committee denounced the document as “insufficient,” saying that she neglected her duty to save people’s lives by not taking the necessary actions.

It said that her seven-hour absence during the ferry disaster was the primary reason why Koreans lost trust in her and described it as “a collapse of the nation’s crises management system”.

In the next hearing scheduled for Thursday, those who will be questioned include presidential office administrative staff Lee Young-sun, who took charge of Park’s personal affairs, as well as a former CEO of Segye Daily, who was allegedly laid off due to pressure from the presidential office. 

Park’s confidante Choi, who is at the center of the corruption scandal, as well as ex-presidential aide An will be called in to testify again Monday.

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