News / Asia

South Korea President Apologizes for Scandal

South Korean President Park Geun-hye's spokesman Yoon Chang-jung surrounded by journalists leaves after a press conference in Seoul, South Korea, May 11, 2013.South Korean President Park Geun-hye's spokesman Yoon Chang-jung surrounded by journalists leaves after a press conference in Seoul, South Korea, May 11, 2013.
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South Korean President Park Geun-hye's spokesman Yoon Chang-jung surrounded by journalists leaves after a press conference in Seoul, South Korea, May 11, 2013.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye's spokesman Yoon Chang-jung surrounded by journalists leaves after a press conference in Seoul, South Korea, May 11, 2013.
A scandal embroiling South Korean President Park Geun-hye's administration is threatening the jobs of some of her senior officials.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye, in her first comment on the scandal involving her press office senior staff,  apologized Monday amid growing public outrage that could result in the ouster of additional senior Blue House staff.  The scandal overshadowed the conclusion of her official U.S. visit last week.

The president is characterizing the alleged sexual harassment by her former spokesman as an unsavory incident involving a public official that had to have shocked the victim and her parents, and left “scars on the hearts of compatriots” in the United States.

President Park vows a full investigation that will not allow a “single speck of suspicion” to remain concerning the incident and how officials responded to it. She also said South Korea “will take whatever measures are necessary and cooperate actively” in the investigation under way by police in Washington, D.C.

The controversy erupted during her visit to the United States when it was revealed that DC Metropolitan Police had received a misdemeanor sexual abuse complaint.

Police have not identified the suspect, except to say he is a 56-year-old male.  However, officials in Seoul confirm it was presidential spokesman Yoon Chang-jung, who was fired after he suddenly flew back to South Korea.

Yoon contends the senior secretary for the president's press office, Lee Nam-ki, directed him to return home and not stay in his room at the W Washington Hotel as police had directed.  The hotel is one block from the grounds of the White House.

The president has not commented on whether she will accept Lee's offer to resign. Other officials have indicated they are also willing to accept responsibility for criticism for a perceived lack of transparency about the scandal, including a delay of about 36 hours in informing the South Korean president about Yoon's alleged misconduct.

Opposition politicians are demanding the resignation of additional senior administration officials.

Yoon denies making any unwanted sexual advances, saying he only patted the waist of the young Korean-American woman, who was an intern at the South Korean embassy.

Click to enlarge.Click to enlarge.
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Speaking to reporters Saturday, the fired official contended there must have been a “cultural misunderstanding” that led the woman to file a complaint with police. 

Yoon also said details reported in the media are “unfounded rumors.”

South Korean domestic media quote sources in the Presidential Blue House as saying Yoon admitted touching the intern's buttocks, as alleged in the police report, which was obtained by VOA News, and that he was not appropriately clothed when the intern knocked on his hotel room door the next morning.

Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

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