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Court again upholds acquittal of ex-prime minister
SEOUL, Jan. 13 (Yonhap) -- A Seoul court on Friday upheld a lower court ruling that cleared the country's first-ever female prime minister of bribe-taking charges, the latest of a series of court decisions expected to help her clear barriers to her political aspirations.

   The Seoul High Court declared Han Myeong-sook, who worked as prime minister between 2006 and 2007 under the late liberal President Roh Moo-hyun, not guilty of taking a US$50,000 bribe from former Korea Express chief executive Kwak Young-wook while in office in December 2006.

   "Truth and justice beat down authority. I hope prosecutors will no longer unfairly target the innocent," Han told reporters following the ruling.

   Prosecutors had argued Han took the bribe during an official luncheon gathering held at the prime ministerial residence in central Seoul, in return for helping Kwak land the top position at a state-run corporation.

   A Seoul district court acquitted Han of the bribe-taking charges in October of last year.

   After the decision, Han ran in the Seoul mayoral election against Oh Se-hoon, but was beaten by the then incumbent mayor, who was seeking a second term, by a close margin.

   "Kwak's statement that he gave $50,000 to the former prime minister lacks credibility and consistency," Judge Seong Kee-moon of the high court said, upholding the lower court's decision.

   The judge also said given Kwak's previous experience in dealing with politicians, it was hard to accept that he would choose such an open event as a suitable occasion to bribe Han.

   Kwak is likely to have made his statements to prosecutors under massive physical and mental distress stemming from an investigation into separate embezzlement charges, the judge said.

  



Friday's ruling helped Han put behind her one of two major bribery cases. A second criminal case is awaiting the same appellate court's decision. Late last year, the Seoul Central District Court cleared Han of separate charges she took nearly 900 million won (US$784,313) from Han Man-ho, the head of a local construction company, in violation of the Political Fund Law.

   Following the recent favorable court rulings, Han officially resumed her political career, joining the race to become leader of the main-opposition Democratic United Party.

   Kwak, in the same Friday ruling, was sentenced to a two-and-half-years prison term, suspended for four years, over charges that he embezzled funds from Korea Express.

   pbr@yna.co.kr
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