SEOUL—A former provincial governor accused of sexual abuse in one of South Korea’s most high-profile cases inspired by the “MeToo” movement was found not guilty by a Seoul district court on Aug. 14.
An Hee-jung was a rising star in South Korea’s ruling party before he quit his post in March, just hours after an aide accused him of repeated sexual assault.
Police opened an investigation into the allegations, as the snowballing #MeToo movement rattled the country’s political establishment.
“I am sorry and ashamed, I have disappointed the citizens,” An apologized to the public after the verdict on Aug. 14, Yonhap news agency reported.
Kim Ji-eun, An’s former assistant, had gone on national TV to accuse him of sexually harassing and repeatedly assaulting her.
An’s office initially claimed that the sex was consensual, but just a few hours after the TV interview was aired, An took to Facebook to announce he planned to resign as governor and retire from political life.
The ruling Democratic Party quickly moved to expel An from the party.
An was indicted in April on charges of abusing his authority and forcing sexual intercourse on Kim multiple times from July 2017 to February 2018.
In finding An not guilty, the court said on Aug. 14 that the case was “between two adults with normal judgment” and that “the evidence presented by the prosecution is insufficient to substantiate the charges that there were forced assaults that infringed on the victim’s sexual freedom.”
Rights groups criticized the ruling, and Kim Ji-eun said in a statement she will “live on and fight until the authoritative sexual assaults by powerful people can be judged rightfully by the law”.
The court said it had strictly interpreted existing laws, and that it would be up to policy makers to decide whether to enact laws that would “penalize sexual intercourse as rape when there was no explicit and proactive consent”.
An became an unexpected challenger to President Moon Jae-in during last year’s presidential primaries, and his strong showing raised speculation he could emerge as a future leader.
An was among a number high-profile political, entertainment, and religious figures ensnared in South Korea’s growing “#MeToo” campaign against sexual harassment and assault.
By Jeongmin Kim