Seoul mayor candidate denies sexual assault allegations

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Seoul mayor candidate denies sexual assault allegations

Chung Bong-ju, a former progressive lawmaker who is running for Seoul mayor, denied allegations he hugged and attempted to kiss a college student at a hotel in Yeouido, western Seoul, on Dec. 23, 2011, adding that he hopes his denial does not corrode Korea’s Me Too movement.

In a press release issued to reporters Friday, the 57-year-old adamantly rejected a local news report that cited the alleged victim, who is now a reporter, as saying he sexually assaulted her.

The denial was made two days after Pressian, an online newspaper, broke the news Wednesday morning, just hours before Chung was about to announce his bid to run for Seoul mayor in June. Chung canceled the event 10 minutes in advance.

“I did not meet her at a room in Kensington Hotel on Dec. 23, 2011,” Chung wrote. “Not only did I not meet her that day, I didn’t meet anyone at any room in Kensington Hotel.”

Chung asserted he “had no time” that day to personally meet anyone in public because he was about to be summoned by prosecutors for an investigation, and therefore, he spent most of the day discussing with his lawyers, talking to journalists over the phone and meeting his colleagues. He also had to drop by a local hospital to check in on his mother, who collapsed the same day, Chung wrote.

“I was absolutely shocked by the report,” he said in explaining his delayed response. “Please understand that it took me some time to recover from the tremendous shock I felt from the news.”

Chung pre-registered for the Seoul mayoral election last Wednesday morning, an hour before he was about to announce his bid in a press conference at 11 a.m. The election procedure, which comes with a 10 million won ($9,360) fee, allows candidates to officially establish a campaign office and promote his or her policies in advance, offering extra time to influence voters.

Chung, who served as a lawmaker from 2004 to 2008 in the predecessors of the current ruling Democratic Party, applied as an independent candidate. The liberal asked to rejoin the Democratic Party last month to run for Seoul mayor, but sources with knowledge of internal discussions said a final decision, which deadline falls next Thursday, has yet been made.

“The sexual assault accusation is too specific to ignore,” said a Democratic Party source. “I think he has a fat chance of re-entering the party because Rep. Choo Mi-ae [the party’s chairwoman] has stated she wouldn’t act slow on sexual crimes [within the party] or show any tolerance.”

Chung was among 6,444 people pardoned by President Moon Jae-in late last December in his first batch of special pardons, the only politician to be freed or absolved of his or her past conviction.

By then, Chung was already out of jail after serving a year from December 2011 for spreading false rumors against Lee Myung-bak when the conservative ran for president in 2007.

Lee eventually won the election and served from the following year to 2013.

The pardon lifted Chung’s restriction from running for public office until 2022. As Moon was listing candidates to be granted clemency, a group of 125 lawmakers, including 97 from the Democratic Party, had sent a petition to the Blue House to pardon Chung.

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