Seoul mayor found dead after sexual harassment allegations

Seoul mayor found dead after sexual harassment allegations
Source: Ryu Young-suck

On Friday, the mayor of Seoul, Park Won Soon, was found dead after he was reported missing by his daughter on Thursday at 5:16 p.m. after she found a note that sounded “like a will" on his desk.

“I’m sorry to everyone. I thank everyone who has been with me in my life. I remain always sorry to my family, to whom I’ve given only pain. Please cremate (my body) and scatter (the ashes) at my parent’s grave. Goodbye everyone,” the note read.

An official from the Seoul Metropolitan Government, Kim Ji Hyeong also said that Park canceled all his engagements on Thursday, citing an “unavoidable situation.” This included a City Hall meeting with a presidential official.

After a search involving over 580 police officers, search personnel, drones and sniffer dogs, Park was found on a mountainous trail a just few minutes away from the city. Police spokesperson Choi Ik Soo told reporters in a televised briefing that they did not suspect foul play but would be conducting a detailed investigation.

Park’s death comes after a secretary from his office filed a police report on Wednesday claiming that he had been sexually harassing her since 2017. Her complaint stated that the mayor had repeatedly touched her and sent her inappropriate pictures through a mobile messaging app.

Choi confirmed that the police department had indeed received a complaint against Park, but did not provide further details.

The mayor’s death sent shock waves through South Korea, with several of his supporters gathering outside the hospital in the middle of the night, some crying out, “Get up, Park Won Soon,” “We love you, Park Won Soon” and “We’re sorry, Park Won Soon.”

Seo Jeong Hyup, the city’s first vice mayor who is now acting mayor gave a morning news briefing saying, “I express my deep condolences to the citizens who may have fallen into sadness and confusion with sudden news.”

Park was widely viewed as a potential liberal candidate for the 2022 Korean presidential election after he was reelected to his third four-year term as mayor in 2018. As the mayor of South Korea’s capital, he was also considered the second-most powerful elected official in the country after the president, Moon Jae In.

Before he was mayor, Park was also a respected human rights attorney, securing South Korea’s first sexual harassment conviction as a lawyer in the 1990s. He was also a strong advocate for the rights of “comfort women” who were forced into prostitution by the Japanese army during the Second World War.

During his political career, the late mayor also had a reputation of being an outspoken advocate of women’s rights and gender equality, publicly commending multiple women for their bravery in speaking out against politicians during the peak of the MeTooThe #MeToo Movement is a global reckoning for sexual abusers movement in 2018.

“The resolve of individual heroines is not enough. I think we need social solidarity,” he said at the time.

He was also known to strongly oppose the country’s social and economic inequalities and criticize politicians who have been accused of injustice. Most famously he voiced out in rallies against former President Park Geun Hye, calling for her impeachment during her corruption scandal.

In recent months, Park played an instrumental role in implementing South Korea’s aggressive response against the coronavirus pandemic.

Despite being one of the first epicenters of the virus, the city of around 10 million people has been dubbed one of the most successful in the world in containing the outbreak, reporting just over 13,000 cases and 288 deaths as of July 10.

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