A senior South Korean official on Friday rejected allegations by a Japanese newspaper that President Park Geun-hye had a secret meeting with an unidentified person at an undisclosed location on the day of April's deadly ferry sinking, saying she stayed in her office.
Park's whereabouts on April 16 have emerged as a sensitive political issue in South Korea since Japan's conservative Sankei Shimbun newspaper reported on an alleged secret meeting between the president and a man that day, citing rumors circulated in Korea's financial community.
Presidential press secretary Yoon Doo-hyun told reporters that Park "was inside the presidential compound" for the seven hours, referring to a time frame of between 10 a.m., when she received a written report on the ferry accident, and around 5:10 p.m., when she visited the central disaster management office.
His comments came a day after he said Park's office will hold the Japanese newspaper accountable for its report via civil and criminal legal action.
Speculation on Park's whereabouts on the day was in part sparked by her chief of staff when he told parliament last month that he did not know Park's location when he submitted a written report to her on the disaster which left more than 300 people dead or missing.
Sankei Shimbun cited a column carried by Chosun Ilbo on July 18, in which South Korea's largest-circulation newspaper said Park's whereabouts were unknown for the seven hours, a development it said caused rumors that she met an unidentified person at an undisclosed location.
The Japanese newspaper noted the person appears to refer to Chung Yoon-hoi, who served as Park's chief of staff when Park was a lawmaker, citing rumors in the country's financial community.
It also cited the Chosun Ilbo saying events took a dramatic twist when Chung was confirmed to have divorced his wife and demanded that she keep confidential what took place during their marriage.