SEOUL -- South Korean President Park Geun-hye has dismissed a spokesman over an “inappropriate act” during a state visit to the United States this week, her office said Friday.
Another press aide did not specify what spokesman Yoon Chang-jung was alleged to have done, when he briefed South Korean journalists who were accompanying Park in Los Angeles on Thursday. But the country’s Yonhap News Agency reported that the 56-year-old was accused of groping an intern at the South Korean Embassy in Washington while at a hotel Tuesday.
The scandal cast a pall over what had been seen as a successful trip, during which South Korea and the U.S. presented a united front against recent threats from North Korea.
Park, who took office in February, has faced criticism over her choices for senior government positions, a number of whom had to withdraw following accusations of corruption and other complaints.
The appointment of Yoon, a former journalist and conservative commentator, was also controversial. His name was among the most searched Internet terms in South Korea on Friday.
Lee Nam-ki, Park’s senior press secretary, offered a public apology to the president and the South Korean people Friday, saying it was "very disappointing and regretful" that a member of his office had "carried out an inappropriate act."
The statement, however, did not assuage Park’s critics, who said the president should apologize for an incident that had brought shame on the nation. Park returned to South Korea on Friday.
According to the Yonhap report, Yoon was accused of unwanted sexual contact with the intern, identified as a Korean American woman in her 20s.
The agency quoted a Washington police report as saying that a suspect grabbed the victim’s buttocks “without her permission." The report did not identify the suspect, saying only that he is 56.
Police spokeswoman Gwendolyn Crump said in an email: “We are investigating the report of a misdemeanor sexual abuse. We cannot comment further at this time.”
A spokesman for South Korea's ruling New Frontier party said Yoon admitted to "inappropriate behavior, which indicated drinking with the intern," but denied the accusation of sexual harassment.
Yoon reportedly flew back to Seoul on Wednesday, leaving his belongings behind in a hotel room.
[Updated at 7:25 p.m. May 10: He spoke to reporters on Saturday in South Korea, denying the sexual harassment charges and saying there may have been a misunderstanding because of "cultural differences." Yoon said he "patted" the intern "on the waist" as an encouraging gesture. He added that he made a mistake because he "didn't have a good understanding of American culture."]
Choi is a special correspondent. Times staff writer Alexandra Zavis in Los Angeles contributed to this report.