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(LEAD) Park requests 39 more witnesses at impeachment trial

All News 18:34 January 23, 2017

(ATTN: UPDATES with court's decision in paras 6-7; RECASTS headline; EDITS throughout)

SEOUL, Jan. 23 (Yonhap) -- President Park Geun-hye's lawyers asked the Constitutional Court Monday to summon 39 more witnesses to her impeachment trial, a move seen by critics as a delaying tactic.

The request came during the eighth hearing of the trial that has been under way to determine whether to unseat or reinstate Park over a corruption scandal involving her and her friend Choi Soon-sil. Both Park and Choi have denied the charges.

Park's attorney Lee Joong-hwan asked the court to summon former Presidential Chief of Staff Kim Ki-choon, former Senior Secretary for Civil Affairs Woo Byung-woo and a host of other figures implicated in the scandal.

"Former Chief of Staff Kim is linked to all the grounds for impeachment, while former Senior Secretary Woo is linked to the investigation into Lotte," he said.

Lotte is one of several conglomerates suspected of providing funds to Choi under pressure from the presidential office.

During an afternoon session, Chief Justice Park Han-chul said the court would accept the request to summon six witnesses, including Kim Kyou-hyun, senior presidential secretary for foreign affairs, Rep. Yoo Min-bong of the ruling Saenuri Party, who previously served as senior presidential secretary for state affairs planning, and former Presidential Chief of Staff Kim. The court postponed a decision on the others.

Under the revised schedule, the court will hold hearings until the second week of February, likely pushing back earlier estimates that the proceedings may wrap up as early as the end of February. The court has yet to announce a date.

Park is immune from prosecution while in office, and a delay in the court's deliberations could protect her from a special prosecutor investigating the scandal under a deadline.

Critics say it may also help her buy time to recover some of her lost public support that could influence the verdict by the Constitutional Court. After almost universal condemnation, there has been growing suspicions by conservatives who are loyal to Park that the investigation carried out by state prosecutors and the media may have been incomplete or even biased.

The parliamentary impeachment panel serving as the prosecution suggested the lawyers request written statements from the witnesses instead. Lee, however, insisted that questioning them in court would help the justices decide on their ruling.


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