South Korea's Moon urges action against growing #MeToo sex abuse claims

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Monday called for police to investigate a growing number of sexual abuse claims as the #MeToo campaign ensnares a growing number of high-profile figures, including entertainers and a priest.

Feb 16, 2018; Pyeongchang, South Korea; South Korea president Moon Jae-in visits the Main Press Centre during the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympic Winter Games. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

The #MeToo movement has taken off belatedly in male-dominated South Korea where discussion of sexual misconduct has long been taboo. The country ranked 118 out of 144 for gender equality last year, according to the World Economic Forum.

The case that help spark the movement in South Korea moved forward on Monday, with former deputy minister for criminal affairs at the Justice Ministry Ahn Tae-geun saying he would “faithfully cooperate” with prosecutors investigating claims that he groped a subordinate in 2010.

“Gender violence is an issue of a social structure that allows the powerful to sexually oppress or easily wield violence against the weak,” Moon said at a meeting with aides. “I applaud those who had the courage to tell their stories.”

The campaign was triggered by accusations by dozens of women against U.S. film producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual misconduct, including rape, triggering a wider scandal that has roiled Hollywood and beyond. Weinstein has denied non-consensual sex with anyone.

In recent days, a number of South Korean entertainers have been forced to respond to allegations of misconduct, including Lee Yoon-taek, artistic director of one of South Korea’s top theater groups. He publicly apologized for harassing young actresses but denied allegations of rape.

Actor and university professor Cho Min-ki stepped down from his teaching position and left a role in a new TV series after facing harassment allegations, according to an official at the actor’s former talent agency.

Will Entertainment, Cho’s talent agency for two years, on Monday parted ways with the actor. Cho was not immediately available for comment.

Actor Cho Jae-hyun issued a statement on Saturday apologizing for his wrongdoings after detailed sexual harassment allegations against him became public.

Comedian Oh Dal-su issued a statement on Monday denying allegations he harassed a young actress in the 1990s.

“The claim against me is not true,” Oh said in a statement cited by South Korean media.

Oh and his talent agency were not immediately available for comment.

The #MeToo campaign led the Catholic Diocese of Suwon to suspend a senior priest on Friday for alleged abuse against a parishioner during a mission in South Sudan in 2011.

“Our parish somberly apologizes for clerical abuse and we will ensure to create the environment where all female churchgoers are respected and treated with dignity,” the church said in a statement.

The priest has not been charged.

Reporting by Heekyong Yang; Editing by Josh Smith and Nick Macfie