The mayor of South Korea’s capital has been found dead, more than half a day after giving his daughter a will-like message and then leaving home, police said.
The body of Park Won-soon was found at Mt Bugak in northern Seoul around midnight local time, near where his phone signal had last been detected, the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency said.
It did not give a cause of death. There was no sign of foul play although a detailed investigation would be needed, police official Choi Ik-soo told reporters at a televised briefing at the scene.
His daughter reported him as missing at 5:17pm (0817 GMT) on Thursday, saying his phone was off and he left a message “like a will”, the Yonhap news agency reported.
Police said they mobilized about 600 police and fire officers, drones and tracking dogs to search for Park in the hills, where his phone signal was last detected. They said the phone was turned off when they tried to call him.
Police said a criminial complaint against the mayor had been lodged. Yonhap news agency reported that a former secretary of Park filed a complaint on Wednesday over alleged incidents of sexual harassment.
Kim Ji-hyeong, a Seoul Metropolitan Government official, said Park had not shown up for work on Thursday for unspecified reasons and had cancelled everything on his schedule, including a meeting with a presidential official at his Seoul City Hall office.
Fire officer Jeong Jin-hyang told reporters on Thursday night that rescuers used dogs to search dangerous areas on the hills.
Park, a longtime civic activist and human rights lawyer, was elected as the mayor of Seoul in 2011.
He became the city’s first mayor to be voted into a third term in June 2019.
A member of President Moon Jae-in’s liberal Democratic Party, he has been considered a potential presidential candidate in 2022 elections.
Park mostly maintained his activism as mayor, lamenting the country’s growing gap between rich and poor, gender inequality, and corrupt ties between large businesses and politicians.
He was also a vocal critic of Japan, which ruled the Korean Peninsula as a colony from 1910 to the end of World War II, over what he described as Tokyo’s refusal to sincerely repent for atrocities such as forced labor and a system of sexual slavery for Japanese troops.
South Korea has seen the sudden deaths of key political figures before.
Former liberal President Roh Moo-hyun, who was a close friend and mentor of current President Moon Jae-in, leapt to his death in 2009, a year after leaving office, amid allegations that family members had taken bribes from a businessman during his presidency.
Former military dictator Park Chung-hee, the father of Park Geun-hye, was assassinated by his spy chief during a late-night drinking session in 1979.