Seoul: A former prosecutor who was tried following groping allegations that fuelled South Korea's #MeToo movement walked free on Thursday after his conviction was quashed by the country's top court.
Ahn Tae-geun, 53, was jailed for two years for abuse of power in January last year after being accused of repeatedly groping a female junior colleague at a funeral in 2015.
After Seo Ji-hyun filed a formal complaint, Ahn allegedly had her transferred to a provincial post, significantly impacting her career.
Seo went public with a tearful live television interview in 2018, which triggered a flood of similar accusations against powerful men in fields ranging from art to politics that grew into a South Korean #MeToo movement.
Despite its economic and technological advances the South remains a patriarchal society, and has one of the world's thickest glass ceilings for women.
Ahn who was separately fired for corruption in 2017 could not be charged with sex abuse because the one-year statute of limitations had expired.
Instead he was indicted for abuse of power, accused of using his position to pressure senior prosecutors to reassign Seo to a junior position in revenge.
An appellate court had upheld the original ruling in July, but the Supreme Court on Thursday quashed the decision and ordered a retrial, saying it was difficult to conclude one of Ahn's actions -- asking a prosecutor to write a document related to Seo's transfer to a provincial post -- was a form of power abuse.
The initial trial ruling "misunderstood legal principles on the crime of abuse of official authority", the Supreme Court said in a statement.
"The original verdict is quashed and the case is sent back for re-review and a new decision." The victim's lawyer Seo Gi-ho said he "cannot possibly comprehend" the Supreme Court's decision, adding it had interpreted the definition of abuse of authority "too narrowly" in reaching its ruling.
Jung Ha Kyung-ju, a women's rights activist in Seoul, said the situation was "very concerning", particularly as the decision had been made by the South's highest court.
"This says a lot about how this country has been treating women and the power abuse they experience at work," she told AFP. (AFP)