This week’s Washington summit, hailed as a huge success by Korean media, is being marred by a scandal involving Park Geun-hye’s chief presidential spokesman.
A 21-year-old Korean American female intern recently hired by the South Korean embassy in Washington said the suspect, identified only as a 56-year-old male, “grabbed her buttocks without her permission,” according to a police report.
The intern had shared drinks with spokesman Yoon Chang-jung at the bar of the Willard Hotel near the White House Tuesday night. Yoon invited her to his room at the Fairfax Hotel where the alleged assault took place. The intern left the hotel and filed a complaint with the Washington DC police department.
The incident was linked to Yoon only after his abrupt departure from Washington Wednesday while Park was addressing a joint session of Congress. His departure was so sudden that his belongings were left in his hotel room, according to Korean media. Media speculation began after he was noticed to be missing on the presidential plane for the trip back to Korea.
The spokesman was fired for an “unsavory act that was inappropriate for a high-ranking government official and damaged the national prestige,” according to an official press release by Lee Nam-ki who, as Park’s senior presidential press secretary, is Yoon’s immediate boss.
On Wednesday afternoon Yoon went to the Korean Air counter at Dulles International and used his own credit card to pay about 4 million won ($3,620) for a business-class ticket to Seoul, according to JoongAng Ilbo. By the time he arrived at Incheon International Airport on Thursday afternoon, the scandal was beginning to overshadow Park’s Washington visit in S. Korean mass media.
The opposition wasted no time linking the Yoon scandal to Park’s earlier troubles with key cabinet appointees who had been forced to withdraw due to ethical questions. As a result Park’s support rating had plunged within a month following her narrow election victory. Her popularity had only recently recovered due to her tough stand against Pyongyang during the past month’s tensions.
Park and her office “should deeply reflect on their appointment of the wrong personnel and apologize to the people,” said Kim Kwan-young, a spokesman at the main opposition Democratic Party (DUP). Kim called the scandal a “national shame” and demanded a thorough investigation. Seeking to link the scandal to Park’s reputation for being cavalier with the ethical standards of close aides, the opposition is labeling the scandal a “foreseeable tragedy”.
The firestorm over the Yoon scandal is even hotter than it might have been due to Yoon’s no-holds-barred style during his career as a journalist and political columnist. In one of his online political commentaries he had called Park’s domestic enemies “political prostitutes.”
Yoon’s appointment to Park’s transition team had raised howls of protest from the opposition. Park faced even more criticism when she appointed Yoon as a presidential spokesman.
Yoon’s precise whereabouts have been a mystery since his return to Seoul.