News reports say one of Park’s secretaries had lodged a complaint with police on Wednesday night over alleged sexual harassment.
Kim Ji-hyeong, a Seoul Metropolitan Government official, said Park did not come to work on Thursday for unspecified reasons and had cancelled all of his schedule, including a meeting with a presidential official at his Seoul City Hall office.
About 150 officers, a drone and a police dog had been mobilised for Park’s search, according to police.
A longtime civic activist and human rights lawyer, Park was elected as Seoul mayor in 2011 and became the city’s first mayor to be voted into a third term in June last year. A member of President Moon Jae-in’s liberal Democratic Party, Park had been considered a potential presidential hopeful for the liberals in the 2022 elections.
Park had mostly maintained his activist colours as mayor, criticising what he described as the country’s growing social and economic inequalities and the traditionally corrupt ties between large businesses and politicians.
During the earlier part of his terms, Park established himself as a fierce opponent of former conservative president Park Geun-hye and openly supported the millions of people who flooded the city streets in late 2016 and 2017, calling for her ouster over a corruption scandal.
Park Geun-hye was formally removed from office in March 2017 and is currently serving a decades-long prison term on bribery and other charges.
Seoul, a city with 10 million people, has been a new epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak in South Korea since the Asian country eased its rigid social distancing rules in early May. Authorities are struggling to trace contacts amid surges in cases linked to nightclubs, church services, a huge e-commerce warehouse and door-to-door sellers.