Bureau chief for Japanese paper may be indicted

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Bureau chief for Japanese paper may be indicted

Seoul prosecutors are considering defamation charges against Sankei Shimbun’s Seoul bureau chief Tatsuya Kato after a scandalous claim about President Park Geun-hye’s private life in one of his articles.

The Seoul Central Prosecutors’ Office said yesterday it had verified that Kato’s controversial Aug. 3 report stating that Park was missing for seven hours on the day the Sewol ferry sank, secretly meeting a recently divorced former aide, was groundless.

Kato did not name the man in his report but he quoted rumors in Seoul’s financial sector that said it was Chung Yoon-hoi, 59, a former chief of staff to Park in her lawmaker days.

Prosecutors recently summoned Chung for questioning to confirm his whereabouts on April 16, the day the Sewol ferry sank off Korea’s southwest coast, killing over 300 people.

Chung told prosecutors he did not meet the president or visit the Blue House the day the Sewol capsized. He added that he was with other acquaintances that day. He requested prosecutors to “firmly punish” the Sankei Shimbun’s Seoul bureau chief for the false allegations in the article.

Kato’s Japanese-language online report entitled “President Park Geun-hye, missing on the day of the ferry’s sinking … With whom did she meet at the time?” cited sources such as a column from the Chosun Ilbo and unidentified sources in Korea’s financial industry.

The Blue House earlier submitted documents to the prosecution detailing President Park’s schedule and security details on April 16.

Chung, the son-in-law of Choi Tae-min, the late pastor who served as a mentor to Park, was also questioned by the prosecution over a local news magazine’s allegations that he had hired someone to shadow President Park’s younger brother, Ji-man.

A local civic organization filed a defamation suit against the Sankei Shimbun correspondent on Aug. 9.

Prosecutors imposed a travel ban on Kato and summoned him for questioning twice last week, a rare instance of the Korean prosecution summoning a foreign journalist to defend a report.

Should Kato be charged, the case could have repercussions for the tense relations between Seoul and Tokyo. Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se expressed Seoul’s disappointment with the “malicious” Sankei Shimbun article in bilateral talks with his Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida in Myanmar on the sidelines of an Asean forum on Aug. 9.

If Kato is found guilty of defamation, he could face imprisonment of up to seven years or a fine of up to 50 million won ($49,000) under Korea’s Information and Communications Network Act.

In April 1994, Masatoshi Shinohara, Seoul bureau chief of Fuji Television, was deported from Korea for divulging military secrets from a Korean naval intelligence officer to the Japanese embassy.

He was previously sentenced in June 1993 by a Seoul court to a suspended prison term of two years for a violation of the Military Secrets Protection Act and banned from visiting Korea for five years. The naval intelligence officer was also sentenced to four years in prison and served time.

BY SARAH KIM [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]

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