Prominent South Korean politician resigns after rape allegations, asks for forgiveness

South Korea's snowballing #MeToo movement has swept into the country's political establishment and brought down one of it's rising stars, Governor An Hee Jung.
South Chungcheong Governor Ahn Hee Jung speaking during a meeting with government employees in the city of Hongseong, South Korea, on March 5, 2018.
South Chungcheong Governor Ahn Hee Jung speaking during a meeting with government employees in the city of Hongseong, South Korea, on March 5, 2018. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SEOUL - A South Korean governor, seen as a leading candidate for the next presidential election, has quit his post on Tuesday (Mar 6) after his female secretary accused him of rape.

Ahn Hee Jung, governor of South Chungcheong province, faces sexual abuse allegations from his former secretary, Kim Ji Eun, reported The Korea Herald.

Kim appeared on a JTBC news programme on Monday night, where she made her allegations public. The 33-year-old said she plans to file a legal complaint against Ahn with the prosecution on Tuesday.

Kim alleged that Ahn, 54, raped her four times over the course of eight months, from June 2017 to February this year, and sexually harassed her on many occasions.

The alleged victim said she was raped by Ahn in Switzerland and Russia, among other places, while they were on business trips together.

Kim said she decided to come forward as the governor continued abusing her in February, even after the #MeToo movement began in earnest in Korea at the end of January.

"I did not have the courage to come forward, but I was inspired by those participating in the #MeToo movement," she said.

The alleged victim said that because of the power imbalance, it was extremely hard to reject Ahn's requests and orders while working for him. Kim said she was terrified of what will happen after the TV interview.

"The person I am most scared of is Gov. Ahn Hee Jung," she said with her eyes tearing up during the interview.

Ms Kim Ji Eun appeared on a JTBC news programme on March 5, where she made her sexual abuse allegations public. PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM JTBC NEWS YOUTUBE CHANNEL

"I thought I could just disappear any day after today. I felt like going on TV was one of the very few ways to protect myself. I hope my fellow citizens can protect me."

Kim also said there are other victims of sexual violence in Ahn's office.

Following the TV interview, the ruling Democratic Party held an emergency meeting and expelled Ahn with immediate effect, Agence France-Presse reported on Tuesday.

Democratic Party chairwoman Choo Mi Ae also apologised to the victim and the public.

Hours later, Ahn announced his resignation as governor and retirement from public life.

In a Facebook post on Tuesday, Ahn - who is married with two children - admitted sexual misconduct and said he will stop all his political activities.

"It is all my fault. I seek forgiveness for my foolish act," he wrote. “I apologise to everyone, especially to Miss Kim Ji Eun,” he said in the post.

He added that his office's claim that the sexual relationship was consensual was "false."

Ahn was one of the most prominent politicians in the liberal circles, often described as the ruling Democratic Party's next leader or presidential candidate.

Some supporters have nicknamed him the "Obama of South Korea".

He worked as a political aide to the late President Roh Moo Hyun during Roh's presidential campaign in 2002.

Last year (2017), Ahn was considered the main "darkhorse" contender for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination. He lost against Moon Jae In, who is now South Korea's President.

On the same day Kim made her public accusation against Ahn, the governor had expressed support for the #MeToo movement.

"I see the ongoing #MeToo movement as progress to resist against a culture that is very much male-dominated," he said at an event with his employees at the South Chungcheong Provincial Government building. "I hope the movement can be an opportunity for us to make a fairer and more peaceful society."

Opposition parties lambasted Ahn and the ruling party and demanded his apology and resignation as governor, according to Yonhap news agency.

"A very bad guy. He should confess what happened and apologise to the public," said Chang Je Won, spokesman of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party.

"We demand his immediate resignation and call for the authorities to take measures to prevent secondary damage to the victim," said Shin Yong Hyeon, spokeswoman of the Bareunmirae Party.

The accusation came amid the fast spread of the #MeToo movement in South Korea, after a female prosecutor revealed in January that she had been sexually assaulted by a senior colleague several years ago. It was followed by a raft of revelations from alleged female victims in the culture, arts, education and religious sectors, said Yonhap.