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Japanese reporter denies defaming President Park

Sankei Shimbun’s former Seoul bureau chief Tatsuya Kato on Thursday denied the charges that his Aug. 3 report on President Park Geun-hye was aimed at intentionally defaming her.

In the first trial hearing on the 48-year-old defendant at Seoul Central District Court, an attorney for Kato said that he “does not understand why the article on the relations between Park, who is single, and a man is regarded as a libel case.”

The attorney argued that the bureau chief wrote the article to inform Japanese readers of Park’s then-falling approval rating. He stressed that the report “was targeted for the benefit of the public and there was no intention of defamation.”

He also compared the case with several reports on French President Francois Hollande with his live-in girlfriend, saying that he has never heard that any journalist who publicized the story was punished for libel.

Tatsuya Kato (left) walks into the Seoul Central District Court in Seoul on Thursday. (Yonhap)
Tatsuya Kato (left) walks into the Seoul Central District Court in Seoul on Thursday. (Yonhap)

In addition, he called for the prosecution to clarify whether Park has the apparent intention of punishing the Japanese reporter. “A libel suit cannot be linked to sanctions (on the defendant) if the case goes against the victim’s will toward punishment.”

Kato, who appeared before the court, said he hopes that “the trial in Korea, which is governed by law, would proceed strictly according to laws and evidence.”

Kato was indicted after he raised questions about President Park’s whereabouts on the day of the Sewol ferry sinking.

The report 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.

The prosecution, however, has yet to take any action against the vernacular Chosun Ilbo, which initially raised the question about Park’s whereabouts for seven hours during the ferry accident in a column.

According to earlier rumors in the local stock brokerage sector, Park was staying with Chung Yoon-hoi, her former key aide, at a private residence in Seoul.

The presidential office had dismissed the rumors and report, stressing that the President was staying at Cheong Wa Dae. A secretary noted that she took care of state affairs “not only at (her) official office but also at the presidential residence.”

By Kim Yon-se (