Questions have been mounting if late Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon was tipped off about a sexual harassment complaint against him before apparently taking his own life.
While circumstantial evidence indicates that he might have known about the complaint, it remains unknown who leaked the information as all the involved agencies have strongly denied the suspicion.
Police claimed it briefed the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae on the case but didn't tell Park about it, while the presidential office denied having passed the information to the mayor. The Seoul metropolitan government said it hadn't been aware of the complaint at all.
But a central government official told Yonhap New Agency via telephone on Tuesday afternoon that the government understands that the city had been aware of an upcoming complaint against the mayor and updated Park on the development.
"(Park's death) happened after Mayor Park was briefed by city officials (on the upcoming complaint)," the official said requesting anonymity.
The complaint was filed at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday by Park's former secretary at the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency. She was under a police probe until 2:30 a.m. Thursday, according to her lawyer. On Thursday morning, Park abruptly canceled his schedule for the day and went missing until he was found dead early Friday morning.
During a press conference Monday, civic group officials who are helping the former secretary openly raised questions on how the case was reported to Park immediately after the complaint was filed.
"Under such circumstances, who can trust the country's system and report cases of workplace sexual abuse involving a gap in power?" asked Lee Mi-kyung, head of the Korea Sexual Violence Relief Center.
Joo Ho-young, the floor leader of the main opposition United Future Party (UFP), also suspected that Park was informed of the case either by the presidential office or the police.
"If that is true, it amounts to a violation of criminal laws," he said.
But government agencies involved in the case all denied the information leakage allegation.
"The police have no direct contact with the Seoul city government, so the suspicion is groundless," an official from the police station said. "There are sometimes cases in which we inform a heavyweight of an upcoming summons following a sufficient investigation."
Presidential spokesman Kang Min-seok also strongly denied the allegation in a text message to reporters.
"We were told on Wednesday night that a complaint was filed against the mayor, but we did not notify him of the case," a Cheong Wa Dae official, who asked not to be named, told Yonhap in a phone interview.
Kim Jae-ryun, the lawyer for the former secretary, said she first consulted her client on May 12 and begun reviewing a potential legal complaint against Park on May 27. Given a nearly two-month period, there is a possibility that the information could have reached Park through other outlets.
Kim said her client had requested a transfer to another post following the alleged abuse, and shared photos and texts from Park with her friends and colleagues.
"The victim asked for help inside the city government but only heard 'the mayor was not that kind of a man,'" Lee from the relief center claimed, adding that the city government effectively turned down the victim's plea for help to stop the sexual abuse.
The Seoul metropolitan government has maintained that it learned about the complaint from news reports only after Park went missing Thursday.
Park's close aides could not be reached for comments.
Although a criminal investigation into the sexual abuse case cannot be opened since the defendant died, a separate probe into the potential leakage case can be launched.
Demanding a formal prosecution investigation into the alleged leakage, a right-leaning civic group, Hwalbindan, lodged a complaint with the Supreme Prosecutors Office on Tuesday.
The civic group said the complaint calls for an investigation into unidentified police and Cheong Wa Dae officials accused of having tipped off the late mayor.
The group also lodged a complaint against high-ranking Seoul city officials, including Seo Jeong-hyup, first vice mayor for administrative affairs who is acting as the mayor, for allegedly cooperating with or covering up Park's alleged sexual misconduct.
The police are also planning to launch digital forensics into the late mayor's mobile phone.
"The police plan to have a discussion with the family (of Park) to fix the schedule (for the forensics)," a police officer said, adding that the discussion may take place a few days later.
Currently, the police are keeping a mobile phone of Park, Apple's latest iPhone model, which was found alongside his body last Friday.
The results of the forensics could provide necessary information to solve lingering questions over Park's death, as well as the sexual abuse and information leakage allegations raised after his apparent suicide. (Yonhap)