Skip to main content

South Korean president apologizes for scandal over spokesman in U.S.

By Jethro Mullen and Soobin Park, CNN
May 14, 2013 -- Updated 0120 GMT (0920 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • President Park Geun-hye says she is sorry about an "unsavory incident" involving an aide
  • The spokesman was fired last week amid allegations of sexual misconduct
  • He denies that he molested a female student in Washington
  • The scandal has overshadowed Park's first official visit to the United States

Seoul, South Korea (CNN) -- South Korean President Park Geun-hye apologized Monday for a damaging scandal involving a spokesman she fired last week over allegations of sexual misconduct in the United States.

The former aide, Yoon Chang-jung, is accused of making inappropriate advances toward a female student who was hired as a guide while Yoon was in Washington for Park's first official visit to the United States last week.

"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 Monday at a meeting with senior officials. It was the first time she has commented publicly on the matter.

Her office hasn't disclosed details of what Yoon, 56, is alleged to have done, and Washington police have said only that they are investigating a report of a sexual abuse misdemeanor without specifically mentioning Yoon by name.

But South Korean news media have widely reported that Yoon is accused of grabbing the buttocks of the young woman, who has not been identified, after drinking with her.

Allegations denied

On Saturday, Yoon denied the allegations circulating about him, 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.

Yoon also denied allegations in the South Korean press that he had called the woman to his room the morning after the incident and answered the door undressed.

He said he had only answered the door in his underwear because he believed it was somebody with an urgent message for him.

"I never imagined my guide would have come," he said.

He apologized to Park, South Korea's first female president, for the "trouble" he had caused.

I deeply regret not properly understanding the American culture, and I offer my sincere word of consolation to the guide.
Yoon Chang-jung

State visit overshadowed

The scandal has cast a pall over Park's five-day visit to the United States, her first high-profile trip since her inauguration in February.

Before news emerged of Yoon's dismissal and the allegations against him, the visit had generally been considered a success, with Park and President Barack Obama reaffirming the U.S.-South Korean alliance in the face of recent threats from North Korea.

Yoon is alleged to have made the inappropriate advances toward the woman on Tuesday night, hours after Park held talks with Obama.

He said his boss, chief presidential press secretary Lee Nam-ki, told him to leave Washington quickly and return to South Korea as soon as the allegations of misconduct began to surface.

Yoon said he told Lee he had done nothing wrong and wanted to stay and explain the situation. But he said he followed his supervisor's order and gone to the airport.

Lee made a statement to the media on Thursday in Los Angeles (Friday morning in South Korea), saying Yoon had been dismissed after he had "damaged the dignity of the country."

Media uproar

By the time Park stepped off the plane that brought her back to South Korea on Friday evening, a media firestorm was raging over the scandal, and opposition parties were demanding a public apology.

After earlier apologies by senior members of her staff, Park addressed the matter herself on Monday.

She apologized for the "shock" that she said the student and her parents must have experienced.

South Korea "will take whatever measures are necessary and will actively cooperate with the U.S. investigation," Park said.

Yoon, a former journalist and political columnist, served as spokesman for Park's transition team before his appointment, according to the semiofficial South Korean news agency Yonhap.

Critics had said at the time he was unsuitable for the job as spokesman, claiming his columns were sensational and biased, Yonhap reported.

Journalist Soobin Park reported from Seoul, South Korea. CNN's Jethro Mullen reported and wrote from Hong Kong.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0254 GMT (1054 HKT)
A decade on from devastating 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the Red Cross' Matthias Schmale says that the lessons learned have made us safer.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0024 GMT (0824 HKT)
As soon as word broke that "The Interview" will hit some theaters, celebrations erupted across social media -- including from the stars of the film.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1844 GMT (0244 HKT)
Did a rogue hacker -- or the U.S. government -- cut the cord for the regime's Internet?
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0106 GMT (0906 HKT)
Monaco's newborn royals, Princess Gabriella and Crown Prince Jacques Honore Rainier, posed for their first official photos with their parents.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1706 GMT (0106 HKT)
Tim Berners-Lee, the man credited with inventing the world wide web, gives a speech on April 18, 2012 in Lyon, central France, during the World Wide Web 2012 international conference on April 18, 2012 in Lyon.
What's next for the Internet? Acclaimed scientist Sir Tim Berners-Lee shares his insights.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 0822 GMT (1622 HKT)
The United States and North Korea have long been locked in a bitter cycle of escalating and deescalating tensions. But the current cyber conflict may be especially hard to predict.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 2100 GMT (0500 HKT)
A chilling video shows Boko Haram executing dozens of non-Muslims.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 1134 GMT (1934 HKT)
New planes, new flight tests ... but will we get cheaper airfares?
December 21, 2014 -- Updated 1746 GMT (0146 HKT)
The killing of two cops could not have happened at a worse time for a city embroiled in a public battle over police-community relations, Errol Louis says.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 0251 GMT (1051 HKT)
The gateway to Japan's capital, Tokyo Station, is celebrating its centennial this month -- and it has never looked better.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 1621 GMT (0021 HKT)
Unicef has warned that more than 1.7 million children in conflict-torn areas of eastern Ukraine face an "extremely serious" situation.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 1701 GMT (0101 HKT)
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT