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MeToo takes toll on liberal local government heads


Sexual misconduct allegations against the recently deceased Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon mark the third such case involving a local government chief affiliated with the ruling Democratic Party of Korea.

The apparent suicide and alleged sexual misconduct by Korea’s second most powerful official and a potential presidential candidate sent shockwaves through the country, especially as he had been a strong advocate of women’s rights and human rights.

A former secretary to Park filed charges against the mayor on Wednesday for repeated sexual harassment dating to 2017, and submitted her testimony and evidence to the police.

The case is to be closed as the accused is now deceased. It has not been confirmed whether Park knew about the charges filed against him.

Park’s death comes less than three months after Busan Mayor Oh Keo-don resigned in April over sexual harassment. Former South Chungcheong Province Gov. Ahn Hee-jung also stepped down in March 2018 over sexual assault charges.

Oh resigned in April, admitting to “unnecessary physical contact” with a civil servant after she accused him of sexually harassing her in his office.

Oh was the first Democratic Party member to be elected mayor of Busan in 2018, after losing three times.

On April 23, Oh abruptly held a press conference and announced that he had made “unnecessary physical contact during a meeting that lasted for five minutes” with the female subordinate.

The victim had raised the issue to Busan city officials earlier that month and demanded that Oh step down.

The Democratic Party leadership said they were unaware of the allegations until Oh held the press conference, which came shortly after the parliamentary elections on April 15.

Oh is currently under police investigation without being held custody.

In 2018, Gov. Ahn stepped down after his secretary accused him of sexual assault. He was later sentenced to three years and six months in jail.

Ahn was a rising presidential hopeful in the ruling party when his secretary made the allegations public on a cable news show in March 2018.

In the Democratic Party’s internal race for presidential candidacy in 2017, Ahn came second after eventual President Moon Jae-in, and his popularity among centrists and conservatives made Ahn widely recognized as the Democratic Party’s next possible presidential contender.

The court, however, convicted Ahn on four counts of sexual assault and six counts of sexual harassment between July 2017 and February 2018, and finalized the sentencing of three years and six months in prison in September last year.

By Kim So-hyun (