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FILE PHOTO: The Democratic Party's candidate for the presidential primary An Hee-jung makes a speech at an event to declare their fair contest in the party's presidential primary in Seoul, South Korea, March 14, 2017. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon/File Photo

(reuters_tickers)

By Jeongmin Kim

SEOUL (Reuters) - A former provincial governor accused of sexual abuse in one of South Korea's most high-profile cases inspired by the "MeToo" movement was found not guilty by a Seoul district court on Tuesday, according Yonhap news agency.

An Hee-jung was a rising star in South Korea’s ruling party before he quit his post in March, just hours after an aide accused him of repeated sexual assault.

Police opened an investigation into the allegations, as the snowballing #MeToo movement rattled the country’s political establishment.

"I am sorry and ashamed, I have disappointed the citizens," An apologised to the public after the verdict on Tuesday, Yonhap reported.

Kim Ji-eun, An's former assistant, went on national TV to accuse him of sexually harassing and repeatedly assaulting her.

An’s office initially claimed that the sex was consensual, but just a few hours after the TV interview was aired, An took to Facebook to announce he planned to resign as governor and retire from political life.

The ruling Democratic Party quickly moved to expel An from the party.

An was indicted in April on charges of abusing his authority and forcing sexual intercourse on Kim multiple times from July 2017 to February 2018.

In finding An not guilty, however, the court ruled that the case was "between two adults with normal judgement" and that "the evidence presented by the prosecution is insufficient to substantiate the charges that his actions infringed on the victim's sexual freedom," according to Yonhap.

An became an unexpected challenger to Moon during last year’s presidential primaries, and his strong showing raised speculation he could emerge as a future leader. He was one of a number high-profile political, entertainment, and religious figures ensnared in South Korea's growing "#MeToo" campaign against sexual harassment and assault.

(Reporting by Jeongmin Kim; Editing by Michael Perry)

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Reuters