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Japanese reporter indicted for defamation of President Park

South Korea's prosecutors indicted Wednesday a Japanese reporter from a conservative Tokyo newspaper without detention on charges of damaging President Park Geun-hye's reputation for raising questions about her whereabouts on the day of April's deadly ferry sinking.

Tatsuya Kato, head of the Seoul bureau of Japan's Sankei Shimbun newspaper, was indicted on defamation charges for reporting that Park and an unidentified man had an alleged secret meeting on the day of the ferry disaster, citing rumors circulated in Korea's financial community.

In August, the Sankei Shimbun cited a column carried by the Chosun Ilbo in mid-July, in which South Korea's largest-circulation newspaper said Park's whereabouts were unknown for seven hours, a development it said caused rumors that she met a man at an undisclosed location.

"The indictment was made on the grounds that the article, written based on false facts, allegedly defamed (Park's) reputation by indicating without any proof that the female president had improper relations (with an unidentified man)," the prosecution said.

A local civic group filed a complaint against Kato and prosecutors have summoned him three times for questioning, concluding that the newspaper's move to raise questions about Park's whereabouts are groundless.

The presidential office refuted the newspaper's claim, saying that Park "was inside the presidential compound."

The Sewol ferry capsized off southwestern South Korea on April 16, leaving more than 300 people, mostly high school students, dead or missing.

Last month, Park lashed out at insulting remarks against her as she warned that such comments could hurt the stature of South Korea and its people.

The indictment comes as bilateral relations have been at their lowest ebb in recent years due to Japan's attempts to deny its wartime atrocities such as sex slavery and its territorial claims to South Korea's easternmost islets of Dokdo.

Kato, who is under an overseas travel ban by Seoul prosecutors, will have to appear at a local court for trial. A court or prosecutors may extend the period of the travel ban during the proceedings.

Japanese media claimed that Kato's freedom of movement is being violated as he is unable to return to Japan even though he was assigned to the newspaper's Tokyo bureau as of Oct. 1. (Yonhap)