Mayor of Seoul found dead after massive search

Julian Ryall
Seoul mayor Park Won-soon was reported missing by his daughter - JEON HEON-KYUN/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock/Shutterstock

Police say the body of the missing mayor of South Korea's capital, Seoul, has been found.

They say Park Won-soon's body was located in hills in northern Seoul early Friday, more than seven hours after they launched a massive search for him.

A police officer said Mr Park's body was found near a traditional restaurant and banquet hall located in the hills. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

News reports say one of Mr Park's secretaries had lodged a complaint with police on Wednesday night over alleged sexual harassment.

Mr Park left his home shortly before 11am, with his daughter contacting the police at 5.17pm to say that he had left a “strange” voice mail message on her phone “that sounded like a will”, The Korea Herald reported. The phone was subsequently turned off.  

Police were able to track the location where the phone was turned off - close to a Buddhist temple - and have dispatched ground units, tracker dog teams and drones to search the Seongbuk-dong district of northern Seoul.  

Police have drafted in the help of a sniffer dog as they comb a mountain in Seoul - YONHAP/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock/Shutterstock

An ambulance was deployed nearby, while more police have been stationed outside the mayor’s home. The mayor is reported to have been wearing a black hat, a dark sweater and black trousers and carrying a backpack when he left his home. 

An official from the city government confirmed that 64-year-old Mr Park had earlier in the day cancelled meetings scheduled for the afternoon, including talks with a representative of the national government, after complaining of feeling unwell. 

Over 100 police officers have been brought in to be part of the search - Kim Ju-sung/Yonhap

Expelled from Seoul National University in the 1970s for demonstrating against the policies of the military government of President Park Chung-hee, Mr Park also served a four-month prison term. He later graduated from Dankook University and earned his diploma in international law at the London School of Economics. 

He began his legal career fighting cases involving human rights and social injustice and was a joint founder of a political watchdog organisation called People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy.

He later set up the philanthropic Beautiful Foundation to promote volunteering and community service and also served on South Korea’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission examining historic human rights violations between 1910 and 1993.  

Police are also guarding Mr Park's official residence in Seoul - KIM CHUL-SOO/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock/Shutterstock

Mr Park was first elected mayor of Seoul in October 2011 as an independent, although he was strongly supported by the Democratic Party, which presently has a large majority in the national parliament, and the Left-of-centre Democratic Labour Party. 

He was re-elected in June 2014 and was in June this year returned for a third and final term as mayor of Seoul. 

There has been speculation that he might in the future assume the leadership of the ruling Democratic Party and become president. 

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