South Korean president fires spokesman for allegedly molesting embassy intern in DC


South Korean President Park Geun-hye attends a welcoming luncheon with California Governor Jerry Brown and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa at Getty House on May 9, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.


Kevork Djansezian

South Korean President Park Geun Hye has fired her spokesman over an unspecified "unsavoury" act during her trip to the US this week.

Yonhap news agency cited senior presidential press secretary Lee Nam Ki as saying that presidential spokesman Yoon Chang Jung was personally involved in "an inappropriate act for a high-level official" that "hurt national dignity."

Yonhap cited rumors that Yoon – a former political columnist – had sexually harassed a South Korean woman in her early 20s who was temporarily hired by the embassy in Washington to assist with duties related to the president's visit.

The Chosun Ilbo carried a report suggesting that the incident took place when Yoon was drinking at a hotel bar with members of the embassy staff until dawn.

DC police were then reportedly called by an intern, but did not arrest Yoon. A Metropolitan Police Department spokeswoman told Yonhap that police were also investigating.

Lee, meantime, said only that South Korea's embassy in Washington was looking into the incident and the findings would be made public.

Yoon returned to Seoul from Washington on Wednesday without accompanying Park on her visit to Los Angeles, the final stop of her visit to the United States, sparking speculation about why he cut his trip short.

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The main opposition Democratic Party (DP) called the incident a "foreseeable tragedy," and blamed the president for appointing Yoon despite widespread criticism that he was unfit for the job. Rep. Kim Kwan Young, the DP's senior spokesman, said:

"There must be a thorough investigation into [the allegations] that damaged our country's dignity and caused national shame."

This episode aside, however, most pundits and newspapers in South Korea are calling Park Geun Hye's visit a success. According to Geoffrey Cain, GlobalPost's correspondent in Seoul, most South Korean newspapers are reporting on the dismissal of her spokesman as scandalous, but not an episode that detracted from her grace and eloquence in her meeting with Obama and addressing Congress.

Park was lucky that her administration went unscathed. Taking office in late February, Park got off to a rocky start that included financial scandals among her cabinet picks, resignations, and a parliamentary deadlock. But the meeting with Obama bumped her approval rating to its highest point so far at 67 percent, reports the Asan Institute, a think-tank in Seoul. (In February, Park entered office with the lowest approval rating in the country's 25-year democratic history at 44 percent.)

While in the US, Park held a summit with President Barack Obama at which the two leaders discussed North Korea. Park also addressed a joint session of the US Congress, stressing that Pyongyang had to give up its nuclear weapons.

Geoffrey Cain contributed to this report from Seoul.