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Former S. Korea presidential hopeful acquitted in sex abuse case

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Seoul (AFP)

A former South Korean presidential contender was cleared of all charges Tuesday in a case stemming from allegations he raped a female aide on several occasions.

Ahn Hee-jung -- who before the scandal was widely seen as a strong contender to replace President Moon Jae-in when his term ends in 2022 -- was acquitted of forced sexual abuse, sexual intercourse by abuse of authority, and other charges by the Seoul Western District Court.

"I am sorry and I am so ashamed," Ahn said on the courthouse steps.

"I have disappointed many. I will make efforts to be born again."

Ahn is a former governor of South Chungcheong province and the case was by far the highest-profile in the country's growing #MeToo movement.

Prosecutors opened an investigation after Ahn's aide Kim Ji-eun said in a television interview earlier this year that he had raped her four times after she was hired.

Fighting back tears, she said she had been unable to reject her boss in the rigid hierarchy of her office.

The 53-year-old politician issued a formal apology and stepped down from his post but insisted the sex was consensual.

It was an astonishing fall from grace for Ahn, who had enjoyed huge popularity among young, liberal voters thanks to his wholesome image and good looks.

He came second to the current head of state Moon Jae-in in the contest for the ruling Democratic Party's presidential nomination last year and was seen as a favourite for the next elections.

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