Korean car rental company SOCAR is taking massive criticism from Koreans after a police investigation reveals the company’s “complete failure to comply with the police order to share crucial information for solving a sexual assault case.”
On February 6 around 11AM, the Seosan Police Station in South Chungcheong Province received a report about a missing child, A. A’s parents filed the report, after realizing their 13-year-old had disappeared. The police soon began investigating and narrowed down the suspect to a 30-year-old male, B, who came in contact with A via an “Open Chat” application.
B: I would like to see you. Let’s meet up.
B: What is your address?
From CCTV footages collected, the police learned that B picked A up in a SOCAR-rented vehicle and drove her several hundred kilometers across provincial lines to Gyeonggi Province.
Tracking down the license plate, the police located the car returned to a SOCAR parking structure around 2PM. At this point, B is said to have taken A to his home approximately an hour away from the SOCAR parking structure.
By 6:30PM, as the investigation continued, the police got in touch with SOCAR’s customer service department and asked them to release B’s personal information submitted to rent out the vehicle. SOCAR refused, citing “privacy reasons” and asking for a warrant. The police then filed for a warrant so they could retrieve B’s information.
Unfortunately, around 8PM at B’s house, A got sexually assaulted. The next day, around 2PM on February 7, B dropped A off at a random location in Ilsan city, Gyeonggi Province and fled the scene.
The police investigation later revealed that at this time, B forced A to delete all text messages between the two and threatened her to keep quiet because he “knows where [her] house is.” A was soon retrieved by the police and returned to her parents. She then told her parents that she was raped and got rushed to a hospital where a doctor confirmed with a physical examination that she did indeed show signs of sexual assault.
After another seven hours since A returned, by 9PM on February 7, the warrant was issued. According to the investigation, however, SOCAR actually refused to cooperate again when the police did have the warrant — insisting, “The person in charge of handling the matter is not at the desk.”
Only by late afternoon on February 8, the third day — more than 48 hours since the report had been filed, SOCAR finally got around to releasing B’s information.
On February 10, the police arrested B for charges of kidnapping and sexually assaulting a minor.
B is under custody right now. We’re looking deeper into whether he actually kidnapped A by force … According to A’s statement that she witnessed four other cellphone devices in B’s room, we’re also investigating if there could be more victims.
— Seosan Police Station
A’s parents claim that had SOCAR released B’s information when initially requested, the police may have been able to intervene faster and prevent A from getting raped.
Why couldn’t they simply let us know when we first requested the information? We could have stopped all this from happening…
— A’s Mother
When Koreans grew outraged by SOCAR’s refusal to cooperate with the police, the company’s CEO, Park Jae Wook, issued an apology on their social media platform — as well as on their official website. According to this apology, SOCAR’s internal manual does in fact require employees to release personal information if requested by the legal authority for criminal investigation.
The company admitted their fault and acknowledged that they definitely share responsibility for what happened to A.
… We’re deeply sorry. We feel completely responsible. We will work with the victim and her family to resolve the problem at hand. We failed to comply with the police order and interrupted their investigation. For this, we apologize to the police, the public, and the users of our service.
According to the company’s internal manual, we are required to release personal information to the authority if requested for a criminal investigation. We, however, did not follow this manual and we are at fault… We will revamp our training system and make sure everyone is up to date on the protocol for cooperating with the police. Also, following this incident, we will place a zero tolerance policy for any user involved in a criminal activity using our vehicle…
— SOCAR CEO Park Jae Wook
This apology, however, did not sit well with the public. Some accused SOCAR of “trying to save face” by “hiding the apology under announcements” on their website where it isn’t immediately visible to the visitors.
Moreover, even after the apology, Koreans remain shocked and frustrated at the way SOCAR handled the situation “with zero common sense.”