Seoul to investigate sex harassment claims against late mayor

The Seoul city government announced Wednesday it would open a probe into allegations of sexual harassment against late Mayor Park Won-soon, whose funeral was held on Monday. Photo by Yonhap
The Seoul city government announced Wednesday it would open a probe into allegations of sexual harassment against late Mayor Park Won-soon, whose funeral was held on Monday. Photo by Yonhap

SEOUL, July 15 (UPI) -- The Seoul metropolitan government announced Wednesday it will open a probe into allegations of sexual harassment by Mayor Park Won-soon, who was found dead last week.

City spokesman Hwang In-sik said at a press briefing that the city would form a joint public-private team, including women's organizations, as well as human rights and legal experts, to investigate the harassment claims by Park's former secretary.


"The formation and operation of the public-private joint investigation team will ensure the fairness and objectivity of the investigation," he said.

Hwang also said the city would work to protect Park's accuser from "secondary damages" for making the harassment claims and would "spare no effort to provide effective and sufficient support," including psychological counseling and security measures at her home.

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Park was reported missing Thursday afternoon by his daughter, who told authorities he had left "words like a will" behind. A note was found at Park's residence, saying "I'm sorry to everyone."

The mayor's body was discovered several hours later by a rescue dog in a wooded area near one of the traditional gates surrounding the city with his phone and bag, police said.

His accuser, a former secretary, had filed charges with the police against him the day before.

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At a press conference Monday, a lawyer for the woman said her client was the target of sexual harassment by the mayor for four years and that he had continued to send her lewd text messages after she left the job.

In a statement read by her lawyer, the plaintiff said she was "filled with regret" that she did not report the harassment earlier.

"Yes, I should have screamed when it first happened, cried out and reported it," she said.

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"Weak in front of a great power, I wanted protection by a fair and equal law," she continued. "Within the safety of a courtroom, I wanted to scream at him to stop."

In accordance with Korean law, police closed the criminal investigation upon Park's death. However, an outcry from women's rights groups had been growing ahead of Wednesday's announcement that the city should conduct its own inquiry.

"Although this is a typical workplace sexual harassment case, the accused has become a person who is deceased and we can no longer proceed with criminal prosecution," said Ko Mi-kyung, head of the Korea Women's Hot Line, one of the organizations that hosted Monday's press conference. "However, this is not an issue that can be passed over without finding the truth."


While friends, family and thousands of supporters of the popular mayor turned out to pay their respects over the course of an official five-day funeral, the public has also been calling for a probe into the allegations.

A petition on the presidential Blue House opposing the official five-day funeral for Park, which concluded on Monday, received more than 570,000 signatures.

In a survey released Wednesday, pollster Realmeter found that 64 percent of respondents favored further investigation into the harassment claims.

First elected mayor in 2011, Park was serving his third and final term in office. The former human rights lawyer and leader of civic groups was one of the most powerful elected officials in the country and was widely considered a potential presidential candidate for the ruling Democratic Party in 2022.

Park was credited with winning the first sexual harassment conviction in the country as an attorney in the 1990s and promoted social and gender equality as mayor, becoming an outspoken advocate of South Korea's #MeToo movement while in office.

Lawmakers from both the Democratic Party and opposition United Future Party have urged the city government to launch an investigation.

"I offer my deepest condolences to the victim and apologize once again as a representative of the Democratic Party for this situation," Democratic Party Chairman Lee Hae-chan said during a meeting on Wednesday. "We hope that the city of Seoul will thoroughly investigate the incident in accordance with the will of the victim."


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