Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon, 64, one of South Korea’s most powerful elected officials and the first Seoul mayor to be elected to a third term, was found dead less than 24 hours after his daughter reported him missing when he failed to return home.
According to Yonhap News, Park’s daughter filed a police report on Thursday evening local time, several hours after she received a mysterious message from him that sounded as if he was giving a will. Earlier in the day, the mayor had cleared his schedule because of “inevitable circumstances,” officials told the government-funded news agency.
After several hours of a police search, the mayor’s body was found near his home shortly after midnight, along with several other items nearby, including his business cards, writing utensils, and a backpack, reports the news agency.
According to NPR, the police search consisted of hundreds of police officers, firefighters, rescue dogs, and drones. His body was found in a wooded area by a rescue dog, said Seoul Police Chief Choi Ik-su, reports the news agency.
A police official told Yonhap News that the mayor’s body “did not show particular signs of homicide.” While the exact cause of death has not yet been determined, the news agency reports his death has been presumed a suicide, and police plan to consult with the mayor’ family about the possibility of an autopsy being conducted.
According to The New York Times, Park was elected mayor of Seoul, a city of nearly ten million people, back in 2011 and it was assumed he would be a candidate for South Korean president in 2022. While the incumbent is of the same liberal Democratic Party as Park, South Korean presidents only serve one term, and the law prevents them from seeking a second one.
The Associated Press reports that Park has also been “credited with winning the country’s first sexual harassment conviction as an attorney.”
As of Wednesday, however, Park was also reportedly facing an investigation into sexual harassment claims levied by a former secretary, with “sources” informing Yonhap News that the secretary’s allegations against the mayor consisted of inappropriate messages and physical contact.
According to AP, the police chief “confirmed that a complaint against Park had been filed with police on Wednesday but didn’t specify what he was accused of.”
As for the South Korean mayor’s recent political battles, The New York Times reports:
He had a reputation for being a tireless critic of inequality and a vocal antagonist of former President Park Geun-hye, supporting huge rallies against her in central Seoul that ultimately led to her impeachment and ouster on corruption charges in 2017.
He had also been one of the most aggressive leaders in South Korea in fighting the coronavirus pandemic, taking a series of steps aimed at containing its spread, like shutting down nightclubs. Seoul has reported only 1,390 cases.