SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Authorities searched on Thursday for the mayor of South Korea’s capital, Seoul, who vanished amid sexual harassment allegations after giving his daughter a message that she described as sounding like a will, police said.
Police said they were looking for Mayor Park Won-soon near a small hill in Seoul’s Sungbuk neighborhood where his cellphone signal was last detected. They said the phone was currently turned off.
His daughter called police on Thursday afternoon and said her father had given her “a will-like” verbal message before leaving their home about 4-5 hours earlier. The daughter didn’t explain the contents of the message, said an officer at the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency who was responsible for the search operation.
His daughter said she decided to call police because she couldn’t reach her father on the phone, the officer said, requesting anonymity because she was not authorized to speak to the media about the matter.
About 700 officers, three drones and four police dogs were mobilized in the search, according to police.
Kim Ji-hyeong, a Seoul Metropolitan Government official, said Park had not shown up for work on Thursday for unspecified reasons and had canceled all of his schedule, including a meeting with a presidential official at his Seoul City Hall office.
The reason for Park’s disappearance wasn’t clear. The Seoul-based SBS television network reported that one of Park’s secretaries had lodged a complaint with police on Wednesday night over alleged sexual harassment such as unwanted physical contact that began in 2017. The SBS report, which didn’t cite any source, said the secretary told police investigators that an unspecified number of other female employees at Seoul City Hall had suffered similar sexual harassment by Park.
MBC television carried a similar report.
Both the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency and Park’s office said they couldn’t confirm the reports.
Park, a longtime civic activist and human rights lawyer, was elected Seoul mayor in 2011. He became the city’s first mayor to be voted into a third term in June last year. A member of President Moon Jae-in’s liberal Democratic Party, he has been considered a potential presidential candidate in 2022 elections.
Park has mostly maintained his activist colors as mayor, criticizing what he described as the country’s growing social and economic inequalities and corrupt ties between large businesses and politicians.
As a lawyer, he was credited for winning the country’s first sexual harassment conviction. He has also been an outspoken critic of Japan’s colonial-era policies toward Korea, including the mobilization of Korean and other women as sex slaves for Japanese soldiers.
Park also established himself as a fierce opponent of former conservative President Park Geun-hye and openly supported the millions of people who flooded the city’s streets in late 2016 and 2017, calling for her ouster over a corruption scandal.
Park Geun-hye, a daughter of late authoritarian leader Park Chung-hee, was formally removed from office in March 2017 and is currently serving a decades-long prison term on bribery and other charges.
Seoul, a city of 10 million people, has been a new center of the coronavirus outbreak in South Korea since the country eased its rigid social distancing rules in early May. Authorities are struggling to trace contacts amid surges in cases linked to nightclubs, church services, a huge e-commerce warehouse and door-to-door sellers in Seoul.
Park Won-soon has led an aggressive anti-virus campaign, shutting down thousands of nightspots and banning rallies in major downtown streets.