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(LEAD) Uncertainty grows over appearance of key witnesses in impeachment trial

All Headlines 16:45 January 04, 2017

(ATTN: UPDATES throughout with details; UPGRADES attribution)

SEOUL, Jan. 4 (Yonhap) -- Two former aides to President Park Geun-hye have yet to respond to summonses to attend her impeachment trial, raising the possibility of the Constitutional Court postponing the hearing scheduled for Thursday.

The court planned to hear from key witnesses Lee Jae-man and Ahn Bong-geun during the second open hearing to review the legitimacy of the president's Dec. 9 impeachment.

However, the court has failed to deliver the summons so far as neither could be found at their registered addresses, a court official said Wednesday on condition of anonymity. Court officials will continue to locate the witnesses, he said.

The former presidential officials are dubbed Park's "doorknob" secretaries for their intimate access to the president along with Jeong Ho-seong, former secretary for private presidential affairs. Lee previously served as a secretary for administrative affairs, while Ahn served as a secretary for public relations.

Should they appear as witnesses, they are certain to face intense media and public scrutiny for their alleged roles in the corruption scandal that led to Park's impeachment.

Jeong, among other things, has been accused of leaking confidential documents to Park's friend, Choi Soon-sil, who in turn abused her ties to the president to gain various personal and business favors.

Court officials are concerned that should they refuse to appear, they could set a bad precedent for other key witnesses who were called in to testify next week. The three witnesses summoned for Tuesday's third hearing are Choi, Jeong and An Chong-bum, former senior presidential secretary for policy coordination.

Their summonses were sent electronically to two detention centers where they have been put under custody pending trial on corruption charges.

"The recipients confirmed their receipt (of the summonses)," the official said.

Without receiving the summons, witnesses are not obliged to testify and the court can do nothing but postpone the hearing, the official said. They can also avoid giving testimony by submitting a statement justifying their absence after receiving the summons. But the court can reject the statement and issue a warrant to bring them in.

If witnesses fail to show up without legitimate reason, they could face up to a year in prison or up to 1 million won (US$828) in fines.

hague@yna.co.kr
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