Park Won-soon, mayor of the South Korean capital Seoul (pronounced ‘soul’), and rising star of the governing Democratic Party, has been found dead at the age of 64. His disappearance and subsequent death occurred two days after a former secretary filed a criminal complaint against him, claiming that the women’s rights advocate had repeatedly harassed her since her appointment in 2017. Park’s family deny the charge, and have threatened legal action for defamation, over what they refer to as ‘groundless statements‘.
Park was first reported missing by his daughter, who discovered what she referred to as a ‘will-like message‘ at his home. Finding that his mobile phone was turned off, she called the police, triggering a massive search involving 600 police officers and emergency medical responders. At a minute past midnight local time (16:01 BST), a dog tasked to aid the search discovered Park’s body in a wooded area on Mount Bukak, in northern Seoul. A police spokesperson said that the death was not being treated as suspicious, and no others are thought to have been involved.
The mayor of Seoul is considered to be the second most powerful official in the country. Charged with running the capital city, and therefore responsible for 10 million people, a full fifth of the total population of South Korea, it is an office that comes laden with responsibility and a place squarely in the limelight of South Korean politics.
Park Won-soon had been deemed by many to be a likely Democratic Party candidate for the 2022 presidential election, making him the Democratic Party’s replacement for President Moon Jae-in. Park had a strong record as first a public prosecutor, then a human rights lawyer. The founder of a highly successful civil rights group, he also secured South Korea’s first conviction for sexual harassment. However, it appears that this record may now be tarnished by the allegations that have recently come to light. According to The Guardian, the woman in question, who remains unnamed, visited a police precinct on Wednesday with her lawyer, where she remained until the early hours of Thursday morning giving testimony. The details of her testimony remain confidential at this time, but it appears that their content has caused a political earthquake in South Korea.