Mayor of South Korea's capital kills self after sexual-harassment allegations
Park Won-soon, the mayor of South Korea's capital Seoul, was found dead after a seven-hour long search, authorities said on Friday. One of the most influential politicians in the country, who expressed a desire to replace the incumbent President Moon Jae-in in 2022, Park was accused of sexual harassment by a colleague. He left behind a note where he "apologized to everyone."
On Thursday, Park's daughter approached police saying her father left home after handing her a "will-like" message. For nearly seven hours, some 600 police officers and firefighters, looked for him through the city. Three rescue dogs also aided in the massive search operation. One of the dogs sniffed his body near a restaurant in a hilly region of Seoul and a firefighter identified him.
Hours before he went missing, Park's personal secretary accused him of sexual harassment. The purported victim, who worked with him from 2015, said he made inappropriate gestures, including asking for a hug during work hours inside the bedroom next to his office. She received selfies from Park, where he was dressed in just underwear. "I brainwashed myself, bearing tremendous fear and humiliation," she claimed.
The police confirmed to have received a complaint against Park but didn't divulge more details. With his death, the investigation into the allegations will automatically be closed. Without mentioning the charges leveled upon him, Park apologized in general in his last note. "I'm sorry to everyone. I thank everyone who has been with me in my life," he wrote.
One of the most likable politicians of the country, Park started his career as a prosecutor. He remained associated with NGO People's Solidarity for Participatory Democratization for several years. In 2011, he became the mayor of Seoul and won three consecutive elections. He took the envious office without any links, ushering in a new political era in the nation.
Also a Human Rights lawyer, Park lent support to women who spoke up against renowned policymakers during the #MeToo movement. "The resolve of individual heroines is not enough. I think we need social solidarity," he had said back then, positioning himself as an ally of women. More recently, Park led Seoul's fight against the deadly coronavirus by ordering shutdown of nightclubs and banning rallies.
As news of his demise surfaced, dozens of his supporters cried at the Seoul National University Hospital. "Mayor Park, you were an excellent politician," a post on Daum, the nation's second-largest portal site read. However, there were others who slammed him for abusing his power to get sexual favors from a subordinate. "I hope Park reflects on his misdeeds," one user wrote.
As the city of nearly 10 million was shocked, a representative for Park's family said it was time to "let him go," and requested people to not spread "groundless statements." Moon Mi-ran, who once served as deputy mayor under Park, was more furious. "If acts of defaming him continue irrespective of the truth, we will sternly respond with legal action," he warned.