SEOUL – South Korea’s Foreign Ministry has criticized the Sankei Shimbun for running a report on President Park Geun-hye that questioned her whereabouts on April 16 when the ferry Sewol sank, killing more than 300 people.
“The report was filled with baseless rumor and is a malicious report defaming the head of state,” ministry spokesman Han Hye-jin said Tuesday at a press briefing.
She had been asked about the government’s position on the summoning of Tatsuya Kato, the Sankei’s bureau chief in Seoul, by prosecutors over a report that appeared Aug. 3 on the newspaper’s website.
The report, citing rumors in the stock brokerage industry and a South Korean newspaper, suggested that Park, who is single, was not at the presidential office during a seven-hour period on the day the ferry capsized, and may have been secretly meeting with a recently divorced former aide.
The presidential office has dismissed the rumors and the report.
Angered by the report, a South Korean man who heads a conservative citizens’ organization filed a defamation suit against the Sankei’s bureau on Saturday.
The Seoul Central District Prosecutor’s Office subsequently issued a travel ban on Kato and ordered him to appear Tuesday for questioning. His summons was postponed to next Monday, at the newspaper’s request.
In response to the case, the Sankei issued a statement saying the report was based on information contained in statements made in South Korea’s National Assembly and a column in a South Korean newspaper.