SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — A South Korean appeals court sentenced a former provincial governor to 3½ years in prison on Friday 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 Friday’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 center 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.
Last week, the Seoul Central District Court sentenced former senior prosecutor Ahn Tae-geun to two years in prison for abusing his authority by transferring junior colleague Seo Ji-hyeon to an unfavorable provincial job in 2015 after she demanded that he apologize for allegedly groping her at a funeral. Seo went public with her allegations in January last year.
South Korea’s human rights commission plans to interview thousands of adult and child athletes about a culture of abuse in sports after a wave of female athletes, including two-time Olympic short-track speed skating champion Shim Suk-hee, said they had been raped or assaulted by their coaches.