Independent probe is neededThe Seoul Metropolitan Government pledged to establish a body with civilian experts to investigate sexual harassment allegations that are suspected to have contributed to the recent suicide of Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon. The city’s internal watch and system to prevent gender discrimination did not work as the victim’s pleas for help were ignored. Since the city itself needs to come under scrutiny and questioning for negligence of duty, an internal investigation is not enough.
Given its attitude, the city spurs doubts if an internal probe can be fair and objective. The city government referred to the victim as “a complainer” in its statement, suggesting it still refuses to acknowledge any wrongdoing from its former head. Such a lack of objectivity raises questions about the sincerity of the investigation. Vice Mayor Seo Jeong-hyup, who will serve as the acting mayor until the by-election in April, is also not free from accountability as he had been Park’s personal secretary when the mayor approached the alleged victim. Since her pleas to move to another division were ignored, the mayoral secretariat office itself will have to be investigated for any possible involvement.
The city promises fairness by bringing in legal experts from women’s groups and other fields. But some of them have past connections with the mayor who had been a civic activist practicing human and women’s rights. Female members of the Democratic Party (DP) who used to fight for the rights of women were more focused on praising honorable deeds of the former mayor. Even Seo Ji-hyun, a female prosecutor who spiked a MeToo movement in Korea after her revelation about sexual harassment in the top law enforcement agency, kept silent. The Ministry of Gender Equality and Family also made no mention about the scandal.
Moreover, the body lacks any binding power. The city administration claims that outside experts would have enough expertise and experience to look into the case. But the investigation team cannot press on if the witnesses refuse to comply with questioning. The civilian team is also unauthorized to search records of the mayor’s phones and computers to see if they match her testimonies.
Regardless of the city’s internal probe, law enforcement agencies must take up the case. The internal probe should do the initial work and leave the rest to them. The fact that Park may have been tipped off about the criminal charges despite confidentiality in criminal procedure is a serious matter. The Blue House, the city and police are all denying that they had leaked the information. Since the police also could come under questioning, it is best for the prosecution to handle the case.