Presidential candidate Hong Joon-pyo of the conservative Liberty Korea Party is in hot water after controversy erupted over his suspected involvement in a potential sex crime about four decades ago.
Hong initially wrote about his role in the crime that took place while he was in university in an autobiographical essay published 12 years ago, but the scandal has drawn fresh attention from local netizens in the run-up to May's presidential election.
In the 2005 essay, Hong confessed that he provided an animal aphrodisiac powder to his friend who wanted to seduce a coed while attending Korea University's Law College in Seoul.
"One of my boarding house mates asked me and others to buy him aphrodisiac powder ahead of a school outing. He mixed the powder into a coed's beer but failed to bring her to bed. Thereafter we argued over the medicinal effects of the powder," Hong writes. "I did it for fun at that time, but realized how serious the act was after I became a prosecutor."
As excerpts of Hong's essay began to spread online this week, a growing number of netizens expressed anger and are calling for him to drop out from the presidential race.
The center-left People's Party has also joined the criticism. "We cannot recognize Hong as a presidential candidate any more, as it has been found he conspired in a sex crime against a freshmen coed," a party official said.
The liberal Democratic Party called on Hong to immediately apologize to the public over the row.
"Hong and his party should politely apologize to the public. It is questionable whether he deserves to be a presidential hopeful," said Park Kwang-on, publicity chief for the party's presidential candidate Moon Jae-in.
But the 62-year-old Hong dismissed the criticism, telling reporters on Friday that he was not involved in any sex crime.
"In the essay, I just wrote what I overheard in a conversation among other boarding house students attending a different university," Hong insisted.
In recent opinion polls, Hong ranked in a distant third with less than 10 percent approval, trailing Moon Jae-in of the liberal Democratic Party with over 40 percent and Ahn Cheol-soo of the People's Party with over 30 percent. (Yonhap)