Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon was found dead by police Friday hours after he was reported missing the day before, the New York Times reported. Further details about his death were not immediately known and an official announcement has not yet been made.
The mayor was first reported missing by his daughter around 5 p.m. on Thursday, CNN reported. She said his phone had been off and left her a “will-like” message that sparked concern, according to Seoul’s national news agency Yonhap.
Hours before his death Park had canceled a meeting with Kim Ji-hyeong, an official from the Seoul Metropolitan Government, the BCC wrote, citing The Associated Press. He cleared his schedule for the day at Seoul City Hall, calling out sick, the Times added.
Hundreds of police officers and emergency workers participated in the search.
Park Faced Unconfirmed Sexual Assault Allegations
Korea is one of few democracies in the world that has laws against defaming the dead (and truth is not always a defense to defamation). Would be curious to see how Park Won-soon's family reacts to the accusations against him when they (probably) turn out to have merit.
— Geoffrey Cain (@geoffrey_cain) July 9, 2020
According to the Independent, one of the mayor’s secretaries, who worked at his office since 2017, filed a police report on Wednesday accusing him of sexual harassment. Park allegedly engaged in unwelcome physical contact and texted her “personal photos.” The secretary, who was not named, claimed other women were also allegedly harassed by Park.
The harassment allegations were not confirmed by the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency.
Raphael Rashid, a Seoul-based journalist, tweeted the potential case against Park had ended. “With Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon confirmed dead, the complaint filed against him accusing him of continuous sexual harassment has also ended,” he tweeted. “If a suspect under investigation dies, prosecutors are required to dispose of the case, have ‘no right to indict.'”
Park Was A Potential Presidential Candidate
I met Park Won-soon before he became mayor, when I was a PhD student doing fieldwork in Seoul. He was kind & helpful, and I was grateful. There’s a lot I don’t know about what happened here. It’s sad in so many ways. Prayers for his family & those who remain. https://t.co/Efs4NxX9gD
— Sheena Greitens (@SheenaGreitens) July 9, 2020
The 64-year-old had been the Mayor of Seoul since 2011. Park, a member of the Democratic Party in South Korea, began his final term in June of last year after winning his third election. Some saw Park as a potential candidate for the 2022 presidential election to replace President Moon Jae-in. Park was largely considered the second most powerful elected official in the country, the Times wrote.
As noted by the BBC, Park was the first Mayor of Seoul to be elected for a third term. A civic activist and human rights lawyer, Park spoke out against the corruption of politicians and businesses and against the growing inequality in South Korea.
He was an advocate for Korean sex slaves, also known as comfort women, who were forced to work in brothels for the Japanese army during World War II, The Times reported. While he was a lawyer, he won several landmark cases, including the first sexual harassment conviction in South Korea.
Park openly criticized former President Park Geun-hye and supported the people who protested her presidency, the BBC reported. Park Geun-hye was ultimately jailed on bribery and more charges.
When it came to the coronavirus, Park was aggressive about slowing the spread, The Times wrote. Fewer than 1,400 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Seoul, a city with a population of nearly 10 million people.