|Former South Korean Prime Minister Han Myung-sook walks out of the Seoul Central District Court in Seoul, capital of South Korea, April 9, 2010. The former prime minister accused of accepting bribes from a businessman was acquitted on Friday. (Xinhua/NEWSIS)
by Kim Junghyun
SEOUL, April 9 (Xinhua) -- A local court on Friday found South Korea's former Prime Minister Han Myeong-sook not guilty of alleged bribery charges, clearing hurdles for her de facto mayoral bid in upcoming local elections.
The verdict marks a watershed in the country's pre-election political landscape, as it further emboldens Han's political base, the main opposition Democratic Party (DP), which has vowed to win back public support in the critical elections slated for June 2.
CASE WITH NO PROOF
Prosecutors previously demanded five-year jail term against Han, the country's first and only female prime minister under the late former President Roh Moo-hyun, for allegedly taking kickbacks in December 2006 from a former businessman and her close confidant, Kwak Young-wook.
They claimed she took 50,000 U.S. dollars from Kwak in return for helping him get a top post at the company he previously worked for, a charge Han flatly denied again and again.
"We doubt credibility of Kwak's testimony that he gave 50,000 U. S. dollars to Han. The claim has not been confirmed," local media quoted Friday's verdict as saying.
"Kwak seems to have given different testimonies to get himself off the hook. Interrogations by prosecutors seem to have affected his testimonies," judges reportedly said in a ruling.
The high-profile court battles have been a war of words with no tangible evidence backing up testimonies provided by Kwak, currently under arrest on embezzlement charges, and grew even murkier as he frequently changed his testimony since the trials began in March.
Han, who said she will stake her "entire life" on "revealing the truth," has accused charges brought against her of being fragmented and distorted and even refused to speak to prosecutors during the recent final court hearing.