Yecheon councilor questioned over tour guide assault

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Yecheon councilor questioned over tour guide assault

Park Jong-cheol, a member of the Yecheon County Council in North Gyeongsang Province, answers questions from reporters before heading into Yecheon Police Station, Friday, to be questioned over his alleged assault of a tour guide during the councilors' business trip t Canada last December./ Yonhap

By Jung Hae-myoung

Police questioned Park Jong-cheol, a member of the Yecheon County Council in North Gyeongsang Province, Friday, over his alleged assault of a tour guide during the councilors' "business trip" to Canada last year.

Park, the deputy head of the council, appeared at the Yecheon Police Station at 3 p.m. for questioning, after an activist group filed a complaint with the police Monday.

"I'm sorry for causing a stir," Park said before the questioning. "I'm sorry to the guide and to the people of the county."

He did not answer questions from reporters, just saying he would talk to the police.

He was accused of punching the tour guide several times while on a bus heading for Toronto Dec. 23 during the 10-day business trip with other eight councilors and five staff members.

"Park will be booked for inflicting injury, which will not need any settlement with the victim," a police officer said.

Earlier police questioned some of the other councilors and the staffers and secured surveillance camera recordings from the bus. They also received a statement and medical records from the victim through email, in which the guide clarified he wants Park to be punished and has no intention to forgive him.

The incident was first made public Jan. 2 via media report. At the time the council explained that the tour guide was accidentally scratched when Park waved his hand during a quarrel.

But surveillance camera footage inside the bus was disclosed later, which showed Park coming suddenly from the back of the bus and punching the guide who was at the front. The other councilors remained in their seats and only the bus driver tried to stop him.

A photo was also revealed showing the tour guide's forehead bleeding.

In a radio interview, the guide said the bus driver called 911 and the local police came. The police attempted to take Park in for questioning but the guide refused to make a formal complaint because he did not want to delay the tour schedule.

Later the councilors agreed to pay the guide $3,300 in compensation, after which the latter said Park commented, "Now you can hit me, then I can earn some money, too."

Following the incident, the councilors decided to repay the trip expenses, about 61 million won ($ 553,686) of taxpayers' money, into the local government coffers.

Police will also now look into how the budget for the trip was used, and check whether public funds were used to pay off the guide.

After the first media report about the incident, Park made an official apology Jan. 4 and resigned from his vice chairman position, but held on to his seat as councilor.

But public anger only grew, and Lee Hyung-sik, the chairman of council, said they decided to expel Park from the council. "Other council members will also pay for their behavior and so will I by stepping down from my post," Lee said.

However, angry Yecheon residents are demanding not only Park but also the other eight councilors to step down.

Several members of a farmers' group have been staging a sit-in at Lee's office since Wednesday. About 80 residents also held a rally Friday, saying they would seek a recall of the councilors if they refuse to resign.



Park Jong-cheol, a member of the Yecheon County Council in North Gyeongsang Province, answers questions from reporters before heading into Yecheon Police Station, Friday, to be questioned over his alleged assault of a tour guide during the councilors' business trip t Canada last December./ Yonhap

By Jung Hae-myoung

Police questioned Park Jong-cheol, a member of the Yecheon County Council in North Gyeongsang Province, Friday, over his alleged assault of a tour guide during the councilors' "business trip" to Canada last year.

Park, the deputy head of the council, appeared at the Yecheon Police Station at 3 p.m. for questioning, after an activist group filed a complaint with the police Monday.

"I'm sorry for causing a stir," Park said before the questioning. "I'm sorry to the guide and to the people of the county."

He did not answer questions from reporters, just saying he would talk to the police.

He was accused of punching the tour guide several times while on a bus heading for Toronto Dec. 23 during the 10-day business trip with other eight councilors and five staff members.

"Park will be booked for inflicting injury, which will not need any settlement with the victim," a police officer said.

Earlier police questioned some of the other councilors and the staffers and secured surveillance camera recordings from the bus. They also received a statement and medical records from the victim through email, in which the guide clarified he wants Park to be punished and has no intention to forgive him.

The incident was first made public Jan. 2 via media report. At the time the council explained that the tour guide was accidentally scratched when Park waved his hand during a quarrel.

But surveillance camera footage inside the bus was disclosed later, which showed Park coming suddenly from the back of the bus and punching the guide who was at the front. The other councilors remained in their seats and only the bus driver tried to stop him.

A photo was also revealed showing the tour guide's forehead bleeding.

In a radio interview, the guide said the bus driver called 911 and the local police came. The police attempted to take Park in for questioning but the guide refused to make a formal complaint because he did not want to delay the tour schedule.

Later the councilors agreed to pay the guide $3,300 in compensation, after which the latter said Park commented, "Now you can hit me, then I can earn some money, too."

Following the incident, the councilors decided to repay the trip expenses, about 61 million won ($ 553,686) of taxpayers' money, into the local government coffers.

Police will also now look into how the budget for the trip was used, and check whether public funds were used to pay off the guide.

After the first media report about the incident, Park made an official apology Jan. 4 and resigned from his vice chairman position, but held on to his seat as councilor.

But public anger only grew, and Lee Hyung-sik, the chairman of council, said they decided to expel Park from the council. "Other council members will also pay for their behavior and so will I by stepping down from my post," Lee said.

However, angry Yecheon residents are demanding not only Park but also the other eight councilors to step down.

Several members of a farmers' group have been staging a sit-in at Lee's office since Wednesday. About 80 residents also held a rally Friday, saying they would seek a recall of the councilors if they refuse to resign.





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