President Moon Jae-in immediately accepted Lee Seong-yong’s resignation, making him the shortest head of the air force in the country.
The head of the South Korean Air Force has resigned, apologizing and taking responsibility for the death of a member of the force that ended his life, according to his family, after being sexually harassed by a companion. .
Lee Seong-yong offered to step down a day after a master sergeant in the Air Force was arrested on charges of harassing and injuring a colleague of the same rank in March.
“I feel very responsible for the series of circumstances,” the general said.
“I express my deepest condolences to the victim and demand sincere condolences to the grieving family.”
President Moon Jae-in immediately accepted Lee’s resignation, his press secretary said Friday, making him the shortest-serving head of the South Korean air force after his appointment in September.
The victim’s family said she had suffered mental distress and persistent harassment and accused the air force of trying to cover up the aggression and silence it for the past two months.
The case sparked a public outcry after the woman’s family filed a petition on Moon’s office on Tuesday calling for a thorough investigation and punishment for those involved. So far more than 326,000 people have signed it.
The case also weighs heavily on Moon, the rating of public approval has been steadily declining and the party suffered overwhelming electoral defeats to two major cities ahead of next year’s presidential election.
Too little and too late
Moon ordered an investigation Thursday, including the way the Air Force handled the case, as the family sued three prosecutors from Lee’s base to military prosecutors, accusing two of them of abandoning their duty and trying to force them and the other of sexual harassment.
The Air Force on Thursday fired two supervisors involved in Lee’s case, without explaining why.
On Friday, military prosecutors stormed the air force’s military police offices at its headquarters and at Lee’s base, the defense ministry said.
A number of incidents have motivated the military to tighten rules and sanctions for sexual abuse, but activists say the army is still too lenient with members accused of wrongdoing.
“The investigation is ongoing, but so far there have been indications that the air force tried to protect its own organization, rather than the victim, despite its multiple attempts to ask for help,” a defense source told Reuters under the anonymity cited by the investigation.
The woman’s death came amid growing debate over whether the total male draft of the South should be abolished.
All qualified male citizens are to serve for nearly two years, but women can volunteer in the military.
The harassment at the barracks, as well as other forms of abuse, have long polluted South Korea’s military service and led to several suicides and deadly shootings in the past.
In March, a transgender South Korean soldier, who was forcibly discharged from the army after a gender reassignment surgery, ended her life, causing another public outcry.