Investigators have embarked on their probe into Sankei Shimbun over its Aug. 3 report on President Park Geun-hye, as the Japanese newspaper’s Seoul bureau chief appeared before the prosecution on Monday.
Though the 48-year-old bureau head Tatsuya Katou had been summoned to the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office on Aug. 12, he appeared before the investigative authority on Aug. 18 due to scheduling difficulties.
In the report, the Sankei raised questions about Park’s whereabouts on the day of the Sewol ferry sinking.
It speculated that Park was not at Cheong Wa Dae when the ferry capsized on the morning of April 16, raising the possibility that she was staying with a male confidant for a private meeting at a residence outside the presidential office.
While the prosecution is expected to determine whether to hand out criminal punishment on the paper after reviewing the background of the article and Katou’s statements, the paper’s Japanese headquarters said it believed that the Korean prosecution would investigate the case “on the basis of freedom of expression and information.”
Conservative advocates argued that the “groundless” article was published in a vicious manner and was an apparent defamation of the Korean president.
Many netizens, however, criticized Cheong Wa Dae for only turning up the heat on Sankei without making any particular comments on the vernacular paper Chosun Ilbo, which initially raised the question about Park’s whereabouts through a column.
Opposition lawmakers including Reps. Park Young-sun and Kim Hyun-mi have also continued to call for the presidential office to reveal what took place during Park’s “mysterious seven hours” on April 16.
After the ferry Sewol sank that morning, President Park reportedly asked her staff later that day: “Why did the authority fail to rescue passengers who were wearing life jackets?”
According to earlier rumors, Park was staying with Chung Yoon-hoi, her former key aide, at a private residence in Seoul.
Cheong Wa Dae has dismissed the rumors and report, stressing that the President was staying at the presidential residence. A secretary noted that she took care of state affairs “not only at the official office but also at the presidential residence.”
There are allegations that some presidential secretaries failed to contact or have phone conversations with Park on the morning of the sinking.
By Kim Yon-se (email@example.com