• The Star Staff

Seoul will investigate #MeToo accusations against dead mayor

By Choe Sang-Hun

Seoul City Hall officials said on Wednesday that they would create a joint fact-finding team with women’s groups and legal and human rights experts to investigate accusations that Mayor Park Won-soon had sexually abused a secretary for four years.

The team’s members ​will ​have no power to subpoena or indict those they want to ​question because Park, 64, killed himself Thursday, a day after the secretary filed a complaint against him to the police. By law, the criminal case against Park was automatically closed upon his death.

But women’s rights activists, as well as the unidentified secretary, who spoke to the news media through her lawyer, have called for an investigation even if prosecutors cannot bring charges against Park.

In a survey conducted ​by Realmeter a ​day after Park’s funeral Monday, more than 64% of respondents said they considered an investigation necessary, the company said Wednesday.

“The most important thing is to find the truth,” said Hwang In-sik, a spokesman for the city of Seoul, during a news conference Wednesday where he announced the fact-finding investigation.

But Hwang indicated that the investigators might be able to ask City Hall for disciplinary actions or even ​request that ​the police begin a formal investigation if they find enough incriminating evidence against any ​City Hall ​officials other than Park.

Besides the secretary’s allegations​ of sexual harassment​, the investigators will look into when and through whom Park learned of his secretary’s complaint to the police. Women’s rights activists have said that the filing was leaked to Park, giving him an opportunity to potentially destroy evidence before he died by suicide.

They also said that the secretary’s initial appeals to city officials for help had been ignored as officials tried to protect Park’s reputation. ​

“I am so crushed that I can hardly find a word to say to the people,” Lee Hae-chan, the head of the Democratic Party, said Wednesday about the accusations against the late mayor. “I once again say we are sorry to the people.”

The suicide of Park, as well as the accusations against him, have dominated headlines in South Korea for several days. As mayor of Seoul, a city of 10 million, Park was South Korea’s second-most-powerful elected official, credited with making the city safer and more friendly toward women and often ​cited as a possible presidential candidate​.

Before becoming mayor, ​Park had been one of the country’s most prominent human rights lawyer​s​, ​championing women’s rights throughout his career​ and winning the country’s first sexual harassment case.

The accusations against Park were also a blow to ​President Moon Jae-in’s governing liberal Democratic Party​, of which Park had been a member. Two other party members have​ recently​ become the focus of the #MeToo movement.

In April, Oh Keo-don, the mayor of Busan, South Korea’s second-largest city, admitted to sexual misconduct and resigned after a public servant accused him of sexually assaulting her in his office.

In 2018, Ahn Hee-jung, a rising star in Moon’s party and a presidential hopeful, stepped down as governor of South Chungcheong province after his secretary went on television to accuse him of repeatedly sexually assaulting her. He was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison on rape charges

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