SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – A South Korean appeals court yesterday sentenced a former provincial governor to three-and-a-half years in prison on charges of sexually abusing his secretary, in the highest profile conviction yet from investigations triggered by the country’s growing #MeToo movement.
A Seoul High Court official said Ahn Hee-jung was found guilty on most counts after being accused of molestation, sexual assault and abuse of authority. The official did not want to be named, citing office rules.
Ahn, 54, had been considered a possible presidential candidate, and was a runner-up to current President Moon Jae-in in the ruling party’s presidential primary in April 2017. But he stepped down as governor of South Chungcheong province last March amid public anger over allegations of sexual abuse raised by his then-secretary, Kim Ji-eun. Kim said in a television interview that Ahn had raped her several times since June 2017 and that she couldn’t say no because of how powerful he was.
A lower court acquitted Ahn in August, citing a lack of evidence proving that he abused his authority to force his secretary to have sex.
Ahn, who said the sex was consensual, can appeal the conviction to the Supreme Court.
After yesterday’s verdict was announced, Ahn told the judge that “I have nothing to say,” according to Yonhap news agency, and was later escorted in handcuffs by court officials to a bus that took him to a correction centre in southern Seoul.
In a statement released through her lawyer, Kim thanked the court for seeing “the truth, just the way it is,” and said she hopes the verdict will give strength to other victims of sexual abuse who have struggled in their attempts to seek accountability.
Ahn is the first prominent politician to be jailed after being accused in the country’s growing #MeToo movement against sexual misconduct, which has led to indictments and convictions of powerful men in arts, sports and government after victims came forward.