SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — A South Korean governor who was seen as a leading presidential contender resigned Tuesday after his secretary publicly accused him of raping her, making him the highest-profile South Korean man taken down by the #MeToo movement.
Ahn Hee-jung, governor of South Chungcheong province, said everything was his fault and he was sorry in an early morning Facebook post announcing his resignation hours after his secretary said in a live television interview that Ahn had raped her several times since June and that she couldn’t say no because of how powerful he was.
The provincial government later confirmed his resignation had taken effect.
Ahn has been a leading progressive voice on gender and human rights in conservative South Korea and finished second behind current President Moon Jae-in during their party primary last year.
The revelations shocked South Koreans, especially supporters who saw him as a likely presidential candidate, and people said on social media that they were too shocked to sleep after the secretary’s accusations were aired. His supporter groups on Twitter and Facebook lamented the misdeeds and announced they would stop activities.
South Korean media reported that police were investigating the allegations. Local police did not respond to calls Tuesday seeking confirmation.
The secretary, Kim Ji-eun, told the JTBC network Monday night that she decided to speak up when Ahn raped her last month even after they had talked about the #MeToo movement.
On the night of Feb. 25, Ahn apologized to Kim, saying he had learned from the #MeToo movement in South Korea how she must have been hurt by his actions, Kim recalled during the interview. He asked her if she was all right, appearing a little nervous that night, Kim said.
“So I thought he wouldn’t do it today, but then eventually he did it again,” she said. “After mentioning MeToo and saying sorry, he did it again, so I thought I would not be able to get out of this. I started thinking about how I could get out.”
Ahn’s office initially told JTBC that the relationship was consensual. Kim denied that, saying Ahn is her boss, whom she had to “absolutely follow.” She said she could never say no to him because she knew how powerful he was and that he could easily fire her.
“Don’t add your opinion, don’t tell me your thoughts, you are the mirror reflecting myself and live like a shadow, he always told me,” Kim said. “So I could not question him.”
Kim was appointed by Ahn as his secretary in June, after working on his presidential campaign. She said she found it unusual that a woman would get the job, which included accompanying Ahn on overseas trips.
“Here, when I’m told where to go, I have no choice but do what I’m told to, so I just did that,” Kim said, fighting back tears. “I’m afraid of the numerous changes that would fall on me after this interview. But what I’m most afraid of is Gov. Ahn.”
Ahn, 52, posted an apology on his Facebook page early Tuesday and retracted his office’s statement that the relationship was consensual.
“It’s all my fault,” his post read. “I’m sorry to everyone. Most of all, I’m really sorry to Kim Ji-eun, who must have suffered because of me.”
The ruling Democratic Party apologized for Ahn’s actions hours after Kim’s interview and said it would expel him, moving quickly to contain the damage before crucial elections in June of mayors and governors.
Park Soo-hyun, Ahn’s close friend and a former spokesman for President Moon who was running to replace Ahn in the upcoming elections, said he would stop campaigning.
Several men in South Korean arts, entertainment and academia have apologized or resigned after victims came forward as part of the global #MeToo movement against sexual misconduct, but Ahn was the first prominent politician to be named in the movement.
The latest round of the #MeToo movement in South Korea flared up when a female prosecutor spoke out against the mistreatments she received after reporting being groped by a senior male prosecutor at a funeral in 2010. Prosecutor Seo Ji-hyun’s remarks stunned South Koreans, who were shocked to learn that a woman with such a powerful job could be a victim of sexual abuse.
Prosecutors have launched an investigation into Seo’s case, but the move sparked a flurry of revelations by other women across different sectors. A former director of national theater, famed actors, artists, poets and even a Catholic priest were among those who were accused of sexually abusing students, budding actresses and others.
Some say Ahn’s case may only be a start of the #MeToo movement in politics three months ahead of important local elections.
On Monday, a low-ranking female employee who works at a lawmaker’s office said on the parliament’s website that she was often sexually harassed by a senior aide of the lawmaker she worked for.