Busan Mayor Oh admits molesting a woman and quits

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Busan Mayor Oh admits molesting a woman and quits

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Busan Mayor Oh Keo-don holds a press conference to announce his resignation on Thursday after admitting to molesting a City Hall employee. [NEWS1]

Busan Mayor Oh Keo-don resigned Thursday after admitting to molesting a City Hall employee.

“In a short meeting that lasted five minutes, I made unnecessary physical contact with someone,” Oh said in an urgent press conference held at the Busan Metropolitan Government. “I realized that this could be considered as molestation that must never be done.

“Whether my action is considered serious or not,” he said, “I do not deserve forgiveness.”

Oh, 71, was elected in 2018 and was the first Democratic Party (DP) mayor of the southern port city, a conservative stronghold. Oh succeeded after three unsuccessful runs.

In a seven-minute press conference aired live, Oh made an ambiguous confession of his wrongdoing after announcing his resignation.

“I apologize for having failed to fulfill the promises made to the 3.5 million Busan residents,” he said.

“But I believe my responsibility toward one person is also extremely important. Because my responsibility toward the person is too big, I have to admit that I have made the decision to resign.”

According to sources in the city government, Oh asked a female public servant to visit his office around 11:40 a.m. on March 7 to teach him how to use the computer.

Oh made inappropriate physical contact for about five minutes, the sources said, though the woman protested.

The Busan Counseling Center Against Sexual Violence told the JoongAng Ilbo that the victim reported the mayor earlier this month.

The center started an investigation by contacting a policy adviser to the mayor, and Oh admitted his wrongdoing to the center.

The victim demanded that Oh issue a public apology and resign before April 30. The mayor’s office accepted her demand and drafted a statement to the center and the victim.

According to sources informed about the settlement process, a Busan city official asked the victim if Oh’s resignation could take place after the April 15 general elections. The victim agreed because she didn’t want her case to be politically exploited.

According to the Busan Counseling Center Against Sexual Violence, the victim hired a law firm to make sure Oh’s promises were legally binding. “When a victim desires, we sometimes get a settlement notarized,” an official of the center said.

“During the course of our communication with the city government to assist the victim, Oh and his aides cooperated to protect her,” said the center in a press release. “After the sexual violence took place, they at least tried to assume responsibility.”

The center said Oh’s resignation should not be the end of the victim’s ordeal.

“The Busan Metropolitan Government must actively protect the victim, do its best for her recovery and prevent any additional damage,” it said. The city government must take steps to stop any similar incidents, it said, and change its organizational culture.

The main opposition United Future Party (UFP) attacked the DP. “It is unbelievable that an incumbent mayor confessed to a sexual crime and voluntarily resigned,” Rep. Kim Sung-won, spokesman of the party, said in a statement. “The DP must apologize to the people and reflect on itself.”

Kim pointed out that it was not the first time DP politicians were involved in sexual misconduct.

“Starting with the ‘Me Too’ allegation against former South Chungcheong Gov. Ahn Hee-jung and the sexual assault scandal involving former Rep. Chung Bong-ju, to the recent podcast remarks by lawmaker-elect Kim Nam-kook, we are now witnessing the true, bare face of the DP, hidden behind the mask of its campaign vow to promote women’s rights.”

Kim said Oh made a political calculation about his resignation. “He not only attempted to persuade and silence the victim, but also proposed to her that he would resign after the general elections,” Kim said. “He used the victim’s human rights for politics and tried to deceive the people of Busan and the nation.”

An opposition politician from Busan demanded an investigation. “We also need to hold a National Assembly hearing or a parliamentary investigation to see if the Blue House and the ruling party leadership knew what was going on and used their power to arrange the timing of Oh’s resignation to win the general elections,” said Jeong Oh-gyu, a senior UFP politician based in Busan. “The prosecution must also launch an investigation into what happened.”

The ruling DP said it will expel Oh from the party, denying any prior knowledge of the scandal.

“We will hold a disciplinary meeting tomorrow and expel him,” said a senior DP official.

“The party had no knowledge of the incident. We only learned about it around 9 a.m. this morning. It is not true that we knew about it before the general elections.”

Last October, the Garo Sero Institute YouTube channel, run by former reporters and a lawyer, accused Oh of spending illegal campaign funds in his 2018 election run.

It also said Oh had sexually assaulted a female public servant. When the accusations were raised, Oh called them fake news and sued the three operators of the YouTube channel for defamation.

He filed a separate civil case demanding 500 million won ($406,000) in damages. The cases are still pending.

Oh served for one year and nine months. A by-election to fill the vacancy will take place in April 2021, leaving the city without a mayor for one year.

BY SER MYO-JA, LEE EUN-JI [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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