SEOUL – A former South Korean presidential contender stepped down as a provincial governor Tuesday and announced his retirement from politics after a secretary accused him of multiple rapes.
The stunning fall of Ahn Hee-jung — who came second to Moon Jae-in in the contest to select the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate last year — makes him the most prominent figure to face abuse allegations during a swirling Me Too movement in what is still a male-dominated society.
One of his secretaries told a television interviewer Monday that Ahn had raped her four times since hiring her in June.
Kim Ji-eun told JTBC that the last straw came when Ahn called her into his office on the night of February 25 and apologized for having hurt her, talking about the country’s Me Too movement.
“And then he raped me again,” she said, holding back tears. She also accused Ahn of sexually assaulting others.
Following the TV interview, the ruling Democratic Party held an emergency meeting and expelled Ahn with immediate effect.
Hours later the 52-year-old announced his resignation as governor of South Chungcheong Province and retirement from public life.
“I apologize to everyone, especially to Miss Kim Ji-eun,” he said in a Facebook post.
“I ask for forgiveness for my stupid action … it was all my fault,” he said.
It is an astonishing turnaround for Ahn, who enjoyed huge popularity among young liberal voters thanks to his wholesome image and good looks, which helped him earn the nickname “South Chungcheong’s EXO” — after a K-pop boy band.
Ahn threw his support behind the Me Too campaign in a public speech made just hours before Kim appeared on TV to talk about the sex abuse she suffered at his hands.
“That he raped me again after mentioning the Me Too movement and apologizing to me made me think ‘I may never be able to escape from this. How can I escape from him?’ ” Kim said.
The revelation sparked widespread anger, with one online commentator writing: “Shock, fury … no words will describe how we all feel right now.”
A former Ahn supporter was arrested for throwing a baseball bat at his residence Monday night, breaking a window, according to multiple reports.
Ahn had been tipped as a front-runner among liberal presidential hopefuls to succeed Moon — who can only serve one term — with South Korean conservatives still reeling from the massive corruption scandal that led to the ouster of former President Park Geun-hye.
Moon last month threw his support behind the Me Too campaign spreading across the country, urging measures to combat the widespread abuse of women and punish offenders.
A growing number of South Korean women have accused prominent figures of sexual abuse, making headlines in a country that remains deeply conservative despite economic and technological advances.
But many victims are still reluctant to speak out due to fears of relentless public shaming and online bullying.
Kim said in the interview that she had chosen to come forward publicly out of fear for her personal safety.
“I’m afraid of all the changes that may occur in my life after this revelation, but I’m more afraid of Gov. Ahn Hee-jung,” she said.
“I hope that people of South Korea can protect me … since Ahn and I are so different, I wanted to seek strength from other people and to stop him,” Kim added.
South Korean police chief Lee Chul-sung said the police had launched a preliminary investigation into Ahn after contacting Kim’s lawyers, and vowed to ensure her personal safety.