South Korea

Funeral for Seoul Mayor Held as Allegation Details Emerge

Park Won-soon, who was reportedly implicated in a sexual harassment complaint, was found dead Friday in a wooded area in northern Seoul

Mourners pass by a memorial altar for late Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon at City Hall Plaza in Seoul, South Korea, Sunday, July 12, 2020. The sudden death of Seoul's mayor, reportedly implicated in a sexual harassment complaint, has prompted an outpouring of public sympathy even as it has raised questions about a man who built his career as a reform-minded politician and self-described feminist.
AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon

Mourners wept and deeply bowed before the coffin of Seoul’s mayor during his funeral Monday, while a lawyer came forward with details about sexual harassment allegations against the late politician.

The allegations have split many in South Korea over how to remember Park Won-soon, who was found dead Friday in a wooded area in northern Seoul. Park, a liberal who built his career as a reform-minded politician and champion of women’s rights, had been considered a potential candidate for president in 2022.

Police said there was no sign of foul play but refused to disclose the exact cause of his death. Seoul officials have said Park left a note saying “I feel sorry to everyone” and asking that his body be cremated.

On Monday, lawyer Kim Jae-ryon told reporters that she gave legal counsel to one of Park’s former secretaries before a complaint was lodged with police over alleged sexual harassment. Kim, who represents the ex-secretary, said the complaint was filed on July 8, the day before Park’s daughter called police to report her father missing, prompting a massive police search for him.

Kim said the ex-secretary said that Park sent her messages and photos that involved “sexual harassment” and that she showed those to some of her friends, colleagues and a local journalist. The woman said Park subjected her to unwanted "physical contact,” the lawyer said.

Kim’s news conference was the first of its kind since the allegations against Park were reported by local media when the police began their search for the mayor.

Police and Seoul’s city government didn’t immediately have official responses to the lawyer's claims and refused multiple attempts to confirm details in the complaint. Police have previously confirmed that a complaint against Park was filed but have not given any details.

Kim’s office also refused The Associated Press’ request to contact Kim.

During the news conference, an activist read what she called a message by the former secretary.

“I was foolish. I have deep regrets. Yes, I should have screamed when it first happened, cried out and reported it,” the message said.

She was quoted as saying in the message that she found Park’s death “deeply disappointing” and hard to believe

Earlier Monday, the Seoul city government held a funeral for Park with about 100 participants, a relatively small size given his prominence. Authorities cited coronavirus concerns for limiting participants, but some observers say opposition to a big, outdoor funeral was likely the reason.

The mayor’s daughter, Park Da-in, wept at the funeral and said she felt both sorry and grateful to city officials who she said must have been more shocked than anyone by her father’s death. “Thanks to them, our family is overcoming the difficult times little by little,” she said.

A live broadcast online drew a mixture of condolence messages and insults.

Sympathy messages included ones that read “Please, rest in peace,” “I’m heartbroken” and “You’re the best mayor.” But there were also anti-Park messages such as “Shame on you,” “Hypocrite” and “What are you doing with taxpayers’ money?”

The funeral ended after Park’s family and others deeply bowed and laid white flowers before a floral coffin topped with his framed funeral photo. When the coffin was moved out of the building for a cremation and burial later Monday, some of his supporters cried and shouted “Mr. Mayor! Mr. Mayor” and “We love you.”

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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