[Newsphopick=Atalia Chua] Park Won Soon, mayor of Seoul, was found dead on a mountainside in Seoul. His body was found on Bukak mountain in the city’s Seongbuk-gu neighborhood, just after midnight on Friday (10 July). The area is closeby to his official residence in Jongno-gu. He is presumed at this point to have taken his own life as the police have ruled out foul play. The department does not want to reveal the cause of death so as to protect his privacy. However according to Choi Ik-soo, an official at Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency's Crime department, Mr Park’s belongings were left found nearby although no suicide note was discoverd.
The 64-year old was first reported missing by his daughter on Thursday (9 July) at 5:17pm local time. She said that he has been missing for 4-5 hours after leaving a message which “sounded like a will”. Mr Park also did not go to work on that day citing health reasons, and cancelled all of his schedules for the day. Almost 600 police officers and firefighters, along with three rescue dogs, started a 7-hour long search at Seongbuk-gu area where his phone’s signal was last traced to. His body was ultimately found by a rescue dog and firefighters.
The speculated reason for his disappearance and subsequent death was reportedly due to allegations of sexual harassment by a female former secretary. She filed a criminal complaint against Mr Park on 8 July over unwanted "physical contact" and "inappropriate" messages. In her report, she claimed Mr Park started sexually harassing her since she started working for him in 2017. She also said that he had sent her personal pictures several times through messenger applications, and submitted those as evidence. She claimed as well that she was not the only victim of Mr Park’s unwanted advances, but the other women were afraid to come forward to report him.
Police officials declined to elaborate on the case, including whether the complaint was submitted. But according to the law, the case was automatically terminated upon the mayor's death.The Seoul city government said on Friday it plans to hold a mayoral funeral for Mr Park for five days. Korean funerals traditionally last for three days. The city government pledged to carry on with city affairs in his place for the time being. "We pray for the soul of the deceased and extend our deepest condolences to the citizens (of Seoul). City affairs will firmly continue according to Mayor Park Won-soon's values that prioritized stability and welfare," Vice Mayor for Administrative Affairs Seo Jeong-hyup said in a press briefing. Seo will serve as the city's acting mayor until a new mayor is elected in a by-election scheduled for April 2021.
Before his political career, Park worked as a prosecutor. He also became Secretary-General of the People's Solidarity for Participatory Democratization, a major NGO, for several years. He was then elected as Seoul's mayor in 2011 in a landslide victory against the ruling party, albeit without any political ties or experience. His unexpected victory was perceived as a sign that South Koreans wanted to move away from traditional politics.