A Seoul district court on Tuesday acquitted former provincial governor An Hee-jung after finding him not guilty in a sexual abuse case, Reuters reported. The politician had resigned from his position in March, hours after an aide accused him of raping her over four times over the last year.
In March, An Hee-jung took to Facebook to apologise to the woman for his “foolish behaviour” and announced his retirement from public life. The police immediately initiated an investigation into her allegations amid the rising #MeToo movement. The Democratic Party also removed him from the organisation.
The 52-year-old was the governor of South Chungcheong province. His office had initially denied the allegations by one of his secretaries, but he retracted the statement.
On Tuesday, the court ruled that the case was “between two adults with normal judgment” and said that the prosecution had failed to prove “the charges that there were forced assaults that infringed on the victim’s sexual freedom”. The Democratic Party has not issued a statement on the matter yet.
Human rights groups, however, criticised the verdict. “This decision will force silence on those who realise they have been victims of sexual abuse,” The Wall Street Journal quoted a statement by an umbrella group of activists as saying.
The woman issued a statement that said she “[will] live on and fight until the authoritative sexual assaults by powerful people can be judged rightfully by the law”.
After the court’s order, An reiterated his apology. “I am sorry and ashamed, I have disappointed the citizens. I will make efforts to start anew,” Yonhap news agency quoted An as saying.
An was President Moon Jae-In’s rival in the party’s primaries and was considered to be a potential presidential candidate before he became one of several public figures accused of sexual harassment in South Korea’s snowballing #MeToo campaign.