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Oh Keo-don, left, arrives at a court to attend his trial on sexual harassment allegations in the southern port Busan on Tuesday. Photo: Yonhap via AFP

South Korean ex-mayor jailed for sexual harassment in fresh blow to President Moon Jae-in’s Democratic Party

  • Oh Keo-don, 72, is the third head of a provincial government in South Korea to have become ensnared in a sexual assault case in as many years
  • The late mayor of Seoul Park Won-soon and former South Chungcheong Governor Ahn Hee-jung, both Democratic Party members, were also accused
South Korea
The former mayor of Busan, South Korea’s second largest city, was on Tuesday sentenced to three years in prison for sexually harassing two female employees in a blow to President Moon Jae-in’s ruling Democratic Party ahead of next year’s presidential election.

Oh Keo-don stepped down as mayor of the city of 3.5 million that hosts Asia’s biggest film festival last year following allegations he acted inappropriately towards subordinates.

Three months later, Seoul mayor Park Won-soon, 65, was found dead of an apparent suicide after a woman employee accused him of sexual harassment.
A Buddhist monk pays his respects at a public memorial for late Seoul mayor Park Won-soon in Seoul last year. Photo: AFP

Both men are from Moon’s Democratic Party, which suffered crushing defeats in by-elections for their posts in April, giving the conservative opposition fresh momentum ahead of next year’s presidential poll.

Oh, 72, insisted on Tuesday that any contact was accidental but before entering court told reporters: “All faults lie in me.”

Busan District Court Judge Ryu Seung-woo said the former mayor abused “his superior position” to commit workplace sexual harassment, and accepted prosecutors’ arguments that one of the victims had experienced post traumatic stress after being sexually assaulted by her boss.

“The victim must have felt tremendous psychological trauma because of what happened to her in the workplace”, Ryu said, according to Yonhap news agency.

“It is reasonable to predict that the pain she was suffering only grew larger as the case received intense public interest and the investigation dragged on.”

Why are South Korea’s young men turning against Moon Jae-in and his ruling party?

The judge urged Oh, who unsuccessfully pleaded that dementia and cognitive problems had caused his abusive behaviour that he said was unintentional, “to empathise more” with the victims.

Oh is the third provincial government head to have become ensnared in a sexual assault case in South Korea in as many years.

Ahn Hee-jung, 56, stepped down as governor of South Chungcheong Province in 2018 after his former secretary, Kim Ji-eun, claimed in a television interview that he had raped her four times.

The close political ally of Moon was convicted of sexually assaulting Kim by abusing his senior position and was sentenced to 42 months in prison in 2019 in one of the most high-profile sexual misconduct cases in this country.
Ahn Tae-geun arrives at a court in Seoul to attend his trial in 2019. Photo: AFP

Oh, Ahn and Park – the former mayor of Seoul who died by apparent suicide – were all members of Moon’s Democratic Party, which put in a strong showing in both the 2018 local elections and 2020 parliamentary elections.

However, in local by-elections held in April to fill the vacant mayoral posts in Seoul and Busan, candidates from the opposition People Power Party defeated ruling party candidates by wide margins.

The victories by the main conservative opposition came amid growing public resentment against Moon’s liberal government sparked by the sexual harassment scandals, skyrocketing housing prices and alleged land speculation by public servants.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Ex-mayor jailed for sexual harassment