SEOUL, South Korea - A former top South Korean presidential spokesman who was dismissed for what officials called a "disgraceful incident" while accompanying President Park Geun-hye on her visit to the United States denied Saturday media reports that he sexually molested a Korean-American woman during the trip.
Park's office said she fired her chief spokesman, Yoon Chang-jung, this week because unspecified actions he committed marred South Korea's national dignity. The presidential Blue House did not elaborate.
Washington's Metropolitan Police Department spokesman, Officer Araz Alali, said the department was investigating a report of misdemeanour sexual abuse, but he could not comment further. A police report obtained by The Associated Press says a woman told police that a man "grabbed her buttocks without her permission" on Tuesday night at the W Washington D.C. hotel. The police report does not describe the circumstances or identify the accuser or suspect, except to say that the suspect is 56. Yoon, who is 56, wasn't named in the report.
South Korean media reports said the woman is a Korean-American in her early 20s who worked for Yoon as part of an internship organized by the South Korean Embassy in the United States. The mass-circulation Chosun Ilbo newspaper, citing an unidentified acquaintance of the woman, said Saturday that Yoon sexually groped her at a hotel bar on Tuesday and asked her to come to his hotel room the next morning and demanded sexual relations. The paper said friends of the woman later reported Yoon's behaviour to police.
On Saturday, Yoon denied the allegations, telling a news conference that he only tapped her once on the waist, not the buttocks, as part of gesture to cheer her up after drinking alcohol with her and their driver for about 30 minutes.
Yoon said he arranged the brief drinking session because he felt sorry for adamantly scolding her several times for allegedly neglecting her duties, including having his vehicle be ready on time.
"I'm deeply repenting that I didn't know about American culture," Yoon told a televised news conference. He said he wants to console her and ask her to understand that he meant only to cheer her up, rather than sexually abuse her.
Yoon also said that he did not call her into his hotel room and that he would seek to take legal action against media outlets that carried inaccurate reports about him over the scandal.
The incident could be a domestic blow to Park after an otherwise widely praised appearance in Washington.
She travelled to Washington seeking a show of unity with her country's top ally at a time of high tension with rival North Korea, which unleashed a torrent of threats against Washington and Seoul in March and April. Her performance during a joint news conference with President Barack Obama and in a speech to the U.S. Congress won praise in Washington, but her spokesman's firing could cause her political problems in Seoul.
Park, who was inaugurated in late February, faced bitter opposition in her first month on the job to policy proposals and her choices for top government posts, many of whom withdrew amid corruption and other claims.
During the news conference, Yoon offered a public apology, saying that a controversy involving him posed damages to Park's U.S. trip.
Yoon, a conservative columnist before joining Park's team last year, is disliked by many progressives in South Korea's fiercely divided political and social landscape. And Park, who was elected in December, has long faced claims from opponents of being aloof and an "imperial" decision-maker. She is the eldest child of late President Park Chung-hee, who led South Korea for 18 years in the 1960s and '70s and is both denounced for human rights abuses and praised as a strong leader.
Associated Press writer Sam Kim contributed to this report.