A Seoul court on Thursday turned down a request by state prosecutors to arrest Shin Jae-min, former vice minister of culture, who is accused of having received bribes from a local businessman.
Prosecutors sought an arrest warrant for Shin, a close confidant to President Lee Myung-bak, earlier this week in their widening investigation on the high-profile bribery case.
Shin is suspected of taking more than 1 billion won ($850,000) in cash and gift certificates from SLS Group Chairman Lee Kuk-chul in exchange for business favors.
"There is room for suspicion but more substantial truth needs to be verified through additional investigation," said Lee Sook-youn, a judge at Seoul Central District Court, adding that Shin is not a flight risk.
The court also rejected a request for an arrest warrant for the chairman, apparently dealing a blow to the prosecutors' probe.
Shin worked as reporter at a Seoul daily for decades before joining the presidential campaign camp in 2007. He served as vice culture minister from 2008 until 2009. He was nominated as culture minister last year but stepped down after his alleged ethical lapse was revealed during a parliamentary confirmation hearing.
Shin was accused of having registered his family in a Seoul metropolitan district while actually living in another region, apparently for real-estate speculation or getting his children enrolled in good schools.