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(2nd LD) Ex-Gov. An cleared of sex abuse charges in MeToo scandal

All Headlines 13:46 August 14, 2018

(ATTN: RECASTS headline; ADDS more details from court ruling in paras 3-5, 7-12; RESTRUCTURES)

SEOUL, Aug. 14 (Yonhap) -- A lower court on Tuesday found former South Chungcheong Province Gov. An Hee-jung not guilty of sexually abusing his former secretary.

The 54-year-old politician was indicted in April on charges of forcing his former secretary, Kim Ji-eun, to have sex with him four times and molesting her multiple times between the middle of last year and early this year in Seoul and while on overseas business trips.

The Seoul Western District Court said that there is not sufficient evidence to prove An 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.

"(The victim's) behavior before and after the alleged assaults and her private text messages are inconsistent with the state of trauma she claimed to be in," it said. "This case involves two adults with intellect and sound judgment. ... There appears to be no evidence other than the victim's testimonies that suggest physical force had been used to incapacitate the victim."

"The evidence presented by the prosecution is insufficient to substantiate the charges that his actions infringed on the victim's sexual freedom," the court ruled.

This trial makes up one of the high-profile cases that have 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.

Outside the courtroom, An apologized and said he was "ashamed."

"I am sorry to the public, I am ashamed (that) I've been a bitter disappointment," he told reporters. "I will do my utmost to turn over a new leaf, I have nothing else to say, but I am sorry."

The lawyers for the plaintiff said they are "appalled" by the ruling.

Chanting voices of his supporters and opponents resounded through the courthouse, with some of them yelling at each other in criticism and others calling out his name to cheer him up.

Some activists from feminist groups shouted, "It isn't over yet!" while his supporters lashed back saying, "(He's) absolutely innocent. (Charge Kim) for false accusations!"

In the last hearing, held on July 27, prosecutors demanded four years in prison for the former governor, as well as his registration as a sex offender.

An was charged with sexual violence, including sexual intercourse, and harassment by abuse of occupational authority. His charges carried a possible prison term of up to five years or a 15 million-won (US$13,000) fine.

An apologized to the public over the scandal but never admitted to the charges. He stepped down as governor in March, days after Kim made the revelation in a cable TV news interview.

The scandal has dealt a serious blow to the political career of the former Democratic Party lawmaker, who was once touted as a potential presidential candidate from South Korea's liberal bloc. The party expelled him after the scandal broke.

Former South Chungcheong Gov. An Hee-jung enters the courthouse in western Seoul to attend his sentencing trial on sexual abuse charges on Aug. 14, 2018. (Yonhap)

elly@yna.co.kr
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