SEOUL (Reuters) – Friends, family and colleagues attended the small funeral Monday for the longtime mayor of Seoul, one of the country’s most prominent elected officials, who leaves a complex legacy amid accusations of sexual harassment.
Mayor Park Won-soon was found dead on Friday; he left a note thanking and apologising to “everyone”. Police did not give a cause of death but said there was no sign of foul play.
His death came days after a city official who served as Park’s secretary filed a complaint alleging the 64-year-old had sexually harassed her, prompting a police investigation.
A lawyer and rights activists who have helped the former secretary said on Monday that Park had repeatedly made unwanted physical contact with her and sent photos of himself in underwear and lurid text messages.
Reuters was unable to contact a representative of Park’s family. But the representative has issued a statement vowing legal action against those who spread “groundless statements,” without elaborating.
“Acts of forceful sexual harassment continued for four years even after she moved to a different position,” Lee Mi-kyoung, one of the activists, told a news conference. “This is a case that has a victim, and could not be covered up by his death.”
Lee also said the former secretary had reported her case to the city but officials had ignored it. A city spokesman said the report had not yet been verified and no inquiry is planned.
The funeral, hosted by the city government at the city hall and live broadcast online, was limited to around 100 people because of coronavirus concerns.
“Mourning doesn’t necessarily exclude soul-searching, but now is time to mourn,” said Paik Nak-chung, a literary critic who helped lead the funeral.
Hundreds of citizens gathered despite heavy rain near city hall and a park where Park’s body will be cremated, some weeping.
In front of city hall, one man sought to bring attention to the harassment allegations, drawing boos and complaints from supporters, local media footage showed.
Park’s remains will be buried in the southeastern county of Changnyeong, where he was born, city officials said.
As the longest-serving mayor of Seoul, a city of almost 10 million people, since 2011, Park was instrumental in its response to the coronavirus.
An outspoken advocate of women’s rights and gender equality, former activist and lawyer, he was seen as a potential presidential hopeful for the liberals in a 2022 election.
A petition filed with the presidential Blue House, urging the funeral to be cancelled over the sexual abuse allegations, gathered more than 560,000 signatures. But a court on Sunday rejected an activist group’s attempt to stop it.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin. Editing by Gerry Doyle)