Photo taken on Jan. 3, 2017 shows the trial site in Seoul, South Korea. The first trial on a parliamentary motion to impeach South Korean President Park Geun-hye ended just in nine minutes on Tuesday with Park, the principal of the trial, not in attendance. (Xinhua/Newsis)
SEOUL, Jan. 3 (Xinhua) -- Impeached South Korean President Park Geun-hye refused to appear in the first hearing of the constitutional court on Tuesday to determine her fate as the country's leader.
Given that the scandal-scarred president has refuted all charges against her, a stiff court battle is forecast to come about. Park's legal team said she will not attend any of the remaining pleading sessions.
With Park's refusal to testify, the first hearing ended just 9 minutes after kicking off at 2:00 p.m. local time. All of the nine justices sat on the bench, with the plaintiff and the defense showing up on either side of the courtroom, TV footage showed.
By law, the constitutional court is allowed to continue legal proceedings in the next session unless the principal of a trial appears.
The second date for pleading was set on Thursday to question four former secretaries to President Park. The third will be held next Tuesday to grill two senior presidential advisors and Choi Soon-sil, Park's longtime confidante at the center of the influence-peddling scandal, as witnesses.
The trial to deliberate the impeachment can last up to 180 days, but it is expected to reach a final conclusion as early as late February. A majority of South Koreans are pressing the court to make a quick ruling.
The motion to impeach President Park was passed in the National Assembly by an overwhelming majority on Dec. 9. If the court upholds it, an election must be held within 60 days to replace the impeached leader.
Park Han-chul, the court's chief justice, issued his unusual comments in the courtroom, saying he and his fellow judges will make their best endeavors to "sternly and fairly" deliberate on it.
The judges have duly recognized the graveness of this case, he said, as well as the crisis of power vacuum caused by the suspended president, indicating the fast proceedings in the court.
The chief justice, who is set to end his tenure in late January, is expected to speed up the proceedings given that judges taking honor seriously are highly likely to want deliberation on the historic case during their terms.
However, a fierce legal battle will come about in the courtroom as President Park and her legal team flatly refute all charges against her.
Park held a rare meeting with local journalists on Sunday, the first day of the year, denying all allegations on her involvement in the scandal. It was viewed by some as a strategy to turn public opinion into favor of her.
The presidential Blue House told some media outlets that President Park plans to have such press meetings at an appropriate time, heralding her counterattack through the press as well as via her counsels on the court.
Some domestic newspapers condemned the meeting by the suspended president, who is only allowed to defend herself in the court as an individual.
Rep. Kwon Seong-dong, who leads the assembly's judiciary committee, rapped Park for the press meeting, urging the impeached chief executive to appear in the court to prove her innocence.
Kwon and two other lawmakers of the committee, assisted by 11 attorneys, are playing a role as the prosecution office because the parliament has the right to impeach a president and the impeachment motion is on trial in the constitutional court, not in a court of law.
President Park's legal team, composed of 9 lawyers, claimed no breach of law in such press meetings, saying Park would not appear in the courtroom under normal situations.
Before the impeachment, Park had repeatedly refused calls for the direct interrogation of herself by prosecutors despite her previous promise in her address to the nation. It enraged the general public further along with Park's confession to no wrongdoings.
Park said she would actively cooperate with investigations by an independent counsel team, which she appointed for herself, but it remained to be seen whether she would accept the questioning by the team which is dedicating to the presidential scandal.