South Korean President Park Geun-hye apologized on Monday for a scandal involving a presidential spokesman, who was fired last week over allegations that he had sexually harassed a woman, during the president’s first official visit to the U.S.
The embarrassing incident sparked public outrage in South Korea and overshadowed the presidential visit, which ended on Friday.
Yoon Chang-jung, who was a spokesman for Park, was alleged to have sexually assaulted a Korean-American woman in her early 20s at a hotel in Washington last Tuesday.
The unnamed woman, in her early 20s, was said to have been employed by South Korea's embassy specifically for Park's four-day trip. The incident was said to have taken place in a hotel bar not far from the embassy.
“I am very sorry that an unsavory incident, which a public official should never be involved in, happened near the end of my visit to the U.S. and hugely disappointed the people,” Park said on Monday in Seoul at a meeting with senior officials, commenting publicly on the matter for the first time, CNN reported.
Park’s presidential chief-of-staff Huh Tae-yeol apologized on Sunday, saying the case was “unconditionally wrong,” “very shameful” and “unacceptable by common sense.”
Park faced criticism from the main opposition Democratic Party (DP), which called the scandal a “foreseeable tragedy” and demanded a public apology from the president for the national embarrassment caused by the “wrong appointment of personnel.”
The ruling Saenuri Party also expressed “strong regret” and called for a thorough investigation.
Washington D.C. police said they are “investigating the report of a misdemeanor sexual abuse” by a 56-year-old male suspect. A police report said the suspect “grabbed her buttocks without her permission,” Seoul’s Yonhap news agency reported.
The police did not identify the suspect, but the age matches that of the spokesman, the report added.
Yoon denied the allegation, saying he had patted the woman on the waist once and encouraged her to “live life to the full in the States and be successful.”
“I swear I did not have any intention of sexually harassing her, and I did not molest her,” Yoon said during a news conference in a Seoul restaurant.
“Now, I deeply regret not properly understanding the American culture, and I offer my sincere word of consolation to the guide,” he said.
He also apologized to Park, South Korea's first female president, for the harm he had caused “to the accomplishments of the successful U.S. visit.”
Yoon left Washington on Wednesday without accompanying Park to Los Angeles. After arriving in Seoul on Thursday, he underwent questioning by the office of the senior presidential secretary for civil affairs, presidential officials told Yonhap.