South Korea’s Constitutional Court has wrapped up the final hearing in President Park Geun-hye’s trial for a graft scandal, as her supporters gathered in front of the court to demand her reinstatement.
The Constitutional Court began hearing the closing arguments on Monday.
Park did not attend the session and instead had her lawyer read her closing argument.
In the statement, Park said she was regretful of having placed trust in her long-time friend Choi Soon-sil who handled her daily affairs for years.
"In retrospect, I have belated regret that I should have been more cautious with my trust in her," she said in her final defense.
Park was impeached by the parliament in December last year, and the Constitutional Court has to decide on the legality of that vote. She has been stripped of her powers and replaced by her Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn in the meantime.
Prosecutors say Park allowed her friend Choi Soon-sil to meddle in state affairs, and that, together, the two colluded to extort money from companies. Park has, however, denied the accusations.
The court ruling on whether to formally end Park’s rule or restore her presidential powers could be expected after about two weeks. If the constitutional court decides to confirm the parliament’s impeachment vote, Park will be removed from power and an election will have to be held within 60 days to choose her successor.
According to Park’s statements, read at the court by her lawyer on Monday, she did not act in self interest while in office. Park also denied making improper demands or receiving illicit requests from Samsung Group, which is also involved in the scandal.
Choi is facing a separate trial of her own over fraud and abuse of power.
Meanwhile, the office of the acting president said he had rejected a request by special prosecutors for a 30-day extension of their investigation. Prosecutors were also denied permission to question Park in person, which is against the constitution.
The state prosecutor’s office, which “regretted” Hwang’s decision, would now make its final indictments before its investigation closes on Tuesday.
Hwang’s decision also prompted the three main liberal opposition parties in South Korea to demand the impeachment of the acting president as well. The opposition parties led Park’s impeachment in December.
Choo Mi-ae, the leader of the main opposition Democratic Party, said Hwang’s decision showed he was trying “to become Park’s shield to protect her and her associates.”
Impeaching a prime minister in South Korea requires support from half of the 299-member parliament. The three main liberal opposition parties have a total of 166 seats in the assembly. Thus, they can easily reach the threshold to strip the prime minster of powers.
Critics, however, say any attempt to impeach Hwang would result in a strong backlash from conservatives.