SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Disgraced South Korean President Park Geun-hye's longtime friend at the center of a massive corruption scandal refused to testify at Park's impeachment trial on Tuesday, with lawmakers alleging that it was a stalling tactic.
The Constitutional Court had expected to hear from Choi Soon-sil, a confidante of Park who's currently jailed and on trial herself for allegedly using her connections with the president to extort money and favors from companies and unlawfully interfere with government affairs.
But Choi (pronounced Chwey) submitted documents to the court saying she was unable to testify because she had to prepare for her own trial. Two jailed former presidential aides who purportedly helped Choi also refused to testify, saying they needed to prepare for their own trials as well.
Lawmakers, who function as prosecutors at the impeachment trial, raised suspicions that Park's lawyers were controlling the witnesses in order to stall.
"Three important witnesses all refused to testify, like they planned it ahead," said lawmaker Lee Chun-suak. "We think there's an invisible hand at work (controlling the witnesses)."
Choi said in the documents that it was difficult for her to testify because she needed time to prepare for her trial, which is being held at a different court, said Park Han-Chul, the Constitutional Court's chief justice. Choi also noted that her daughter is also being investigated over the corruption scandal, and cited an article in the country's criminal litigation law that allows a person to refuse to give testimony that could put their relatives at risk of prosecution or conviction.
However, the court said it would call Choi and the two former presidential aides as witnesses again next week, and that it would take steps to forcibly summon them if they refused to appear again.
The no-shows by the three came after the court last week heard from only one of four former and current presidential aides it had called in as witnesses. Police are currently trying to locate two of Park's former aides after court employees failed to deliver subpoenas to them.
Park's powers have been suspended since Dec. 9, when South Korea's opposition-controlled parliament voted to impeach her.
Park, who has not appeared at her impeachment trial, cannot be forced to attend the hearings, and her lawyers say there's no possibility she will. Some experts have said Park's lawyers may want to stall because the president's popularity is so low now, they might feel that the longer the trial takes, the better chance they have of the court rejecting the impeachment.