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#MeToo: Former South Korean Presidential Contender Ahn Hee-jung Convicted of Sexual Abuse

Ahn Hee-jung was found guilty at Seoul's High Court of a total of nine charges, including sexual intercourse by abuse of authority -- a move welcomed by women's activists who were left infuriated by his acquittal last year.

AFP

Updated:February 1, 2019, 5:36 PM IST
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#MeToo: Former South Korean Presidential Contender Ahn Hee-jung Convicted of Sexual Abuse
Ahn Hee-jung (Credits: Reuters)

Seoul: A former South Korean presidential contender was jailed for three and a half years on Friday in an appeal trial stemming from allegations he raped his female aide -- overturning his controversial acquittal by a lower court last year.

The case involving Ahn Hee-jung, who before the scandal was seen as a strong candidate to replace President Moon Jae-in when his term ends in 2022, is by far the highest-profile individual to be named in the country's ongoing #MeToo movement.

He was found guilty at Seoul's High Court of a total of nine charges, including sexual intercourse by abuse of authority -- a move welcomed by women's activists who were left infuriated by his acquittal last year.

Ahn was accused by his former female secretary of raping her several times between 2017 and February last year, while she was working for him.

Kim Ji-eun remained in silence until she went public with a live television appearance in March -- a rarity in a still conservative society where female victims of sexual assault are often reluctant to come forward to due to fears of shaming.

Ahn was was acquitted last year of all charges including sexual abuse, with the lower court saying it saw "little evidence" that Ahn used his authority to force Kim into sex.

It concluded that the evidence presented by the prosecution was "not sufficient to prove that Kim's sexual freedom was violated against her will."

The lower court also claimed Kim's behaviour -- including going to a wine bar with Ahn the day after she claimed he raped her during a business trip -- made her claims "unconvincing." Ahn has always insisted that the sex was consensual.

However, the court on Friday concluded that Ahn did abuse his powerful position as a prominent politician, as well as Kim's superior at work, to force her into sex. He has never been formally charged or convicted of rape.

"It seems evident that Ahn was aware of the power imbalance between him and Kim," said judge Hong Dong-ki of the Seoul High Court.

"Kim's testimonies are consistent and align with those of other witnesses." Following the delivery of the verdict, Ahn was taken into custody immediately. When asked if wanted to make any comments, Ahn responded: "No."

The ongoing scandal was an astonishing fall from grace for Ahn, who had enjoyed huge popularity among young, liberal voters.

He came second to the current president Moon Jae-in in the contest for the ruling Democratic Party's presidential nomination in 2017 and was seen as a favourite for the next elections.

The verdict comes a week after a former senior prosecutor was jailed for abuse of power in connection with a high-profile case that triggered South Korea's #MeToo movement.

Kim welcomed the higher court's decision Friday, saying she can now finally say goodbye to her "painful days where I felt like a witch to be burned at the stake." The verdict was also welcomed by a coalition of some 158 human rights and women's groups in the country.

"We still have work to do," said the groups in a joint statement.

"What we need is a society where all victims of sexual violence can receive social and legal protection without having to risk losing everything by making a media appearance."

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