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Gyeonggi governor acquitted of election law violation in retrial

Gyeonggi Province Gov. Lee Jae-myung (Yonhap)
Gyeonggi Province Gov. Lee Jae-myung (Yonhap)
Gyeonggi Province Gov. Lee Jae-myung was effectively acquitted by the high court of election law violations, overturning a verdict that jeopardized his political career.

The Suwon High Court ruled that Lee’s remarks during a televised debate ahead of the 2018 local elections were not intended to spread false information, overturning its previous verdict after the Supreme Court sent the case back and ordered a retrial.

“The defendant’s remarks during the debate can be evaluated as an answer to the question of the opponent who raises the suspicion, but it cannot be regarded as an act of public announcement to actively and unilaterally announce it,” the court said in a verdict.

Lee was indicted for abuse of power, interference with the exercise of rights among other charges on the grounds that he directed the head of a public health clinic and a psychiatrist to send his brother to a mental hospital in 2012 while he was the mayor of Seongnam City. He was then indicted on a charge of having lied about the matter in television debate shows in 2018.

Lee immediately welcomed the court’s decision.

“From now on, I would like to spend all my energy and time on the governance of the province and its citizens without wasting time on litigation,” Lee said.

In May 2019, the Seongnam branch of the Suwon District Court found Lee not guilty, but the Suwon High Court overturned the earlier decision, fining Lee 3 million won ($2,506) in September for spreading false information about the hospitalization ahead of the local election in 2018.

In July, the case was reversed and sent back to the high court by the Supreme Court.

With the end of the yearlong court saga, Lee’s political career is expected to gain further momentum.

Lee has been emerged as a strong presidential contender thanks to voters who support his charismatic image and bold policies, such as his proposal for a universal basic income, which have drawn accusations of populism.

Rep. Lee Nak-yon and Gov. Lee Jae-myung have been in neck-and-neck public opinion surveys on potential presidential candidates since August, with no significant rivals from the conservative bloc to challenge their popularity.

In a poll releaesed Friday by Gallup Korea, the governor ranked first by garnering 20 percent, followed by Rep. Lee with 17 percent.

By Park Han-na (