Mayor Park Won-soon’s body was discovered in hills in northern Seoul early Friday, more than seven hours after local authorities launched a massive search for him.
His daughter called police on Thursday afternoon and said her father had given her “a will-like” verbal message before leaving their home hours earlier. She said she decided to contact authorities because she couldn’t reach her father on the phone.
Police officer Lee Byeong-seok told reporters that Park was last identified by a security camera at 10:53 a.m. at the entrance to the wooded hills stretching across northern Seoul, more than six hours before his daughter called police to report him missing. His cellphone signal was last detected in the area before the phone was eventually turned off.
About 600 police and fire officers using drones searched for hours Thursday evening. Fire officer Jeong Jin-hyang said rescuers used dogs to search dangerous areas on the hills, and helicopters would be deployed Friday morning if Park were not found overnight.
Kim Ji-hyeong, a Seoul Metropolitan Government official, said Park did not come to work on Thursday for unspecified reasons and had canceled his schedule, including a meeting with a presidential official at his Seoul City Hall office.
Circumstances surrounding his disappearance and death remain unclear.
The Seoul-based SBS television network reported that one of Park’s secretaries had lodged a complaint with police on Wednesday night over alleged sexual harassment such as unwanted physical contact that began in 2017.
The SBS report, which didn’t cite any source, said the secretary told police investigators that an unspecified number of other female employees at Seoul City Hall had suffered similar sexual harassment by Park. MBC television carried a similar report.
Both the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency and Park’s office said they couldn’t confirm the reports.
Park, 64, a longtime civic activist and human rights lawyer, was elected Seoul mayor in 2011. He became the city’s first mayor to be voted into a third term in June last year. A member of President Moon Jae-in’s liberal Democratic Party, he has been considered a potential presidential candidate in the 2022 elections.
As a lawyer, he was credited for winning the country’s first sexual harassment conviction. He has also been an outspoken critic of Japan’s colonial-era policies toward Korea, including the mobilization of Korean and other women as sex slaves for Japanese soldiers.
Park also established himself as a fierce opponent of former conservative President Park Geun-hye and openly supported the millions of people who flooded the city’s streets in late 2016 and 2017, calling for her ouster over a corruption scandal.
Seoul, a city of 10 million people, has been a new center of the coronavirus outbreak in South Korea since the country eased its rigid social distancing rules in early May. The mayor led an aggressive anti-virus campaign, shutting down thousands of nightspots and banning rallies in major downtown streets.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.