The South Korean Constitutional Court has begun President Park Geun-hye's impeachment trial after the first formal hearing was cancelled on Tuesday (3 January) due to her absence.

According to reports, her lawyer had previously said Park, who is not legally required to attend, will not be in court "unless there are special circumstances." On Thursday, the nine-member bench opened oral arguments between Park's lawyers and the National Assembly despite her non-attendance.

The president's impeachment took place on 9 December after 234 lawmakers voted against her.

President Park was indicted over a political scandal in which she is accused of allowing her friend, Choi Soon-sil, to access government documents without authorisation.

The allegations against her also stated that she had extracted large sums of money from conglomerates with the aim of benefiting Choi.

"This amounts to abusing one's position to violate the people's basic rights and warrants losing one's authority to oversee state affairs. Dismissing the president is aimed not only at recovering the national loss and vacuum in the running of state affairs but at restoring the constitutional order," Rep. Kwon Seong-dong, chairman of the parliamentary legislation and judiciary committee, said, while calling on the justices to permanently remove Park from office.

However, Lee Joong-hwan, one of Park's attorneys, dismissed the allegations citing lack of evidence and legal basis.

Lee also said that the president had not pressured Samsung to make huge donations to the two culture and sports foundations in return for her backing of a merger between two Samsung affiliates

South Korea
Nine judges of South Korea's Constitutional Court sit during a hearing on whether to confirm the impeachment of President Park Geun-Hye, at the Court in Seoul REUTERS/Jung Yeon-Je/Pool

He added, "Ever since she was a presidential candidate, the president has taken a great interest in the culture and sports sectors with the sole purpose of promoting the two sectors."

"President Park didn't know that Choi was effectively in control of the foundations," he said.
The 64-year-old had previously denied any wrongdoing but apologised for carelessness in her ties with Choi. She had even said that any possible misconduct was done without her knowledge.

The court, which has time until early June to decide whether to unseat or reinstate Park, is expected to hear from four key witnesses later in the day, but their attendance remains unclear, the Yonhap news agency reported.