Ex-Governor in S. Korea acquitted of sexual assault

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Seoul, Aug 14 (IANS) A former governor of a South Korean province and one-time presidential contender was acquitted of sexual assault by coercion in one of the high profile cases to emerge from the MeToo movement in the country.

Ahn Hee-jung, the former governor of South Chungcheong province, was accused of rape and assault by his secretary Kim Ji-eun, who made the allegations during an 18-minute interview with South Korean news channel JTBC in March.

The 54-year-old politician was indicted in April on charges of forcing Kim to have sex with him four times and molesting her multiple times between the middle of 2017 and early 2018 in Seoul and while on overseas business trips.

The Seoul Western District Court on Tuesday said that there was not sufficient evidence to prove Ahn used his position to have sexual relations with the plaintiff. It also did not accept the victim’s argument that he had physically subdued her so that she was unable to resist, Yonhap news agency reported.

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“We respect the decision of the court but it is difficult to understand its ruling of not guilty,” prosecutors said in a statement.

“The victim had consistently testified the details of the crime, had expressed refusal to the accused’s demands and had spoken of her suffering to many around her,” the statement added.

Outside the courtroom, Ahn apologized and said he would “endeavour to be re-born”.

“I’m ashamed. I have disappointed you all,” he said.

Before the allegations surfaced, Ahn was seen as a rising star in the ruling Democratic party. He was the runner up to current President Moon Jae-in to represent the party in last year’s presidential election.

The trial made up one of the high-profile cases that sparked the MeToo movement in South Korea amid intense media coverage. Women in art and entertainment, as well as law enforcement, came forward over the past months to tell their experiences of alleged sex assaults by influential men in their work circles.

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