The Seoul Central District Court yesterday acquitted former Prime Minister Han Myeong-sook of bribery charges. Prosecutors meanwhile, vowed to appeal.
“The testimony of Kwak Young-wook was inconsistent and thus insufficient to prove Han’s charges,” said the court in its ruling.
“He seems to have given contradicting testimony under pressure from the prosecution during questioning.”
The court did not move on to judge the remaining issues as it did not recognize the delivery of the money itself, said court officials.
“I appreciate the court announcing the truth and my supporters for trusting me during this long fight,” Han told reporters after the trial.
“Nobody should ever suffer from such a political plot as I did.”
The prosecution, however, still has some room to maneuver and the fight will continue, said Han who stands as a major candidate from the main opposition Democratic Party in the upcoming Seoul mayoral election.
Prosecutors will soon summon one of Han’s closest aides on bribery allegations, prosecution sources said Thursday. They suspect that the aide, surnamed Kim, was also involved in the Han-Kwak bribery, and plan to launch a separate investigation on the case.
Other opposition party members welcomed the acquittal.
“The court’s decision showed that justice prevailed,” said DP floor leader Chung Sye-kyun.
“The attempt by President Lee Myung-bak’s administration to cripple us in the upcoming election has failed.”
Officials of the ruling Grand National Party, however, refuted the opposition’s claims.
“The court’s acquittal indicates that it lacked the necessary material evidence to prove her charges, not that Han was innocent,” said a GNP spokesperson.
“Despite the acquittal, the investigation sufficiently proved her to be morally unworthy of being a former prime minister.”
Cheong Wa Dae refrained from making any official comments on the case.
Han was indicted last December for taking $50,000 in kickbacks from Kwak, former president of Korea Express, back in 2006 while she served as prime minister.
Kwak, during the initial prosecutorial questioning, said that he handed over the money to Han in person after a luncheon held in the prime minister’s office.
He later changed his statement and said that he left the envelopes with the money on a chair in the luncheon hall for Han to pick up.
In order to clarify the circumstances back then, the court last month led an unprecedented investigation in the prime minister’s office where the alleged bribery took place.
The court, apart from acquitting Han, ruled Kwak guilty of embezzlement. He was indicted last November for embezzling 8.3 billion won ($7.4 million) from his former company.
The hearings on the former prime minister started on March 8. The court decided on a speedy trial considering that Han is to run in the local election scheduled for June 2.
Han served as the first female prime minister in 2006-2007 under the late President Roh Moo-hyun. She is presently the senior advisor for the DP.
By Bae Hyun-jung (firstname.lastname@example.org)