SEOUL – A Japanese reporter indicted on charges of defaming South Korean President Park Geun-hye pleaded not guilty at a preliminary hearing on Thursday at the Seoul Central District Court.
Prosecutors last month indicted Tatsuya Kato, the former Seoul bureau chief of Japan’s Sankei Shimbun, over an article published online Aug. 3.
Kato’s article suggested the president had been absent from her office for seven hours on April 16, the day the Sewol ferry sank, killing 300 people. He quoted a South Korean newspaper as saying the president may have been in a personal rendezvous with a recently divorced former aide.
“The article was to let the Japanese people know about South Koreans’ view of President Park,” Kato told the hearing. “It was not intended at all to vilify President Park personally.”
Kato’s defense team also questioned the validity of the case. “It is questionable whether a report on a relationship between a single man and a single woman constitutes defamation,” said Ahn Seung-min, a defense lawyer for Kato.
“The report was filed to let the Japanese people better understand in a concrete way President Park’s approval rating was falling,” Ahn said.
On Oct. 1, Sankei formally transferred Kato to its Tokyo head office. But a travel ban imposed in August by South Korean prosecutors remained in place and he was unable to leave the country. The next hearing will be held on Dec. 15.
In the contentious article, Kato quoted from the Chosun Ilbo, the South Korean newspaper that first reported the rumors.