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Chief of sexual harassment investigation team vows to unveil truth

The head of a special probe team looking in to the sexual harassment allegation inside the Prosecution on Thursday vowed to get to the bottom of the case to prevent a repeat of such crimes.

“I wish for the special investigation team to lead to creating a working environment where two genders can work together on equal footing,” Cho Hee-jin, the chief prosecutor of the Seoul Eastern District Prosecutor’s Office said in a press conference in front of the prosecution.

The 10 member-investigation team, which includes Cho and another chief prosecutor, Park Hyun-ju, will set up their office inside the Eastern Prosecutor’s Office.

Apart from the investigation team, a committee of outside experts will be created to aid the fact-finding mission. 

Cho Hee-jin, current chief of the Seoul Eastern District Prosecutors` Office and the recently appointed head of a special probe team investigating the alleged sexual assault of a female prosecutor, speaks during a press briefing for the team`s launch on Feb. 1, 2018. (Yonhap)
Cho Hee-jin, current chief of the Seoul Eastern District Prosecutors` Office and the recently appointed head of a special probe team investigating the alleged sexual assault of a female prosecutor, speaks during a press briefing for the team`s launch on Feb. 1, 2018. (Yonhap)

The probe team was established after Seo Ji-hyun, a prosecutor, claimed on a live news show Monday that she was sexually harassed by former senior Justice Ministry official Ahn Tae-geun.

Seo, a public prosecutor at the Tongyeong branch of the Changwon District Prosecutors’ Office, said Ahn touched her in front of many other prosecutors and government officials at a funeral in 2010. She claimed she was unfairly transferred to the Tongyeong district from Seoul Northern District Prosecutor’s Office in 2015 after her story spread.

Earlier in the day, Seo’s lawyer Kim Jae-ryun released a statement, calling for the prosecution to stop spreading false rumors that Seo deliberately revealed false accounts of sexual harassment because she was unhappy with her transfer to the remote office.

“Groundless rumors about Seo’s work ethics and her ability is inflicting secondary damage,” Kim said.

As to Seo’s claim, the alleged perpetrator Ahn said he does not remember the incident as it was a long time ago.

Rep. Choi Gyo-il of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party, who was the chief of the ministry’s criminal affairs bureau at the time of incident, denied Seo’s claim that he had tried to cover up the incident, saying he has never encountered Seo nor heard about the case before.

Amid public outrage against the prosecution and the ministry, Justice Minister Park Sang-ki said the ministry will conduct a comprehensive inspection into all sexual harassment cases that occurred inside the ministry after receiving the recommendation from the ministry‘s reform committee.

Meanwhile, Seo’s revelation is winning sympathy and support from the public and has been hailed for igniting the global #MeToo movement, which started in the United States to tackle pervasive sexual harassment, in South Korea.

Civic organizations and women’s rights activist groups simultaneously held press conferences in front of 16 district prosecutor’s offices across the nation on Thursday, demanding thorough and proper investigations into sexual mistreatment in workplaces.

Following Seo’s revelation, the number of online posts with #MeToo hashtags surged on social media networks such as Twitter and Instagram, and numerous flower bouquets and letters encouraging Seo have reportedly arrived at the Tongyeong branch of the Changwon District Prosecutors’ Office.

By Jo He-rim (herim@heraldcorp.com)
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