SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea’s Supreme Court on Thursday overturned an abuse-of-power conviction against a prominent liberal politician, keeping alive his chances of being a top contender in the next presidential election, in 2022.
Lee Jae-myung, the governor of Gyeonggi province, was convicted in 2019 of abuse of power and lying about his attempt to incarcerate his brother in a mental hospital in 2012.
He was fined 3 million won ($2,500), which according to the law, strips him of eligibility to run for public office.
But Chief Justice Kim Myeong-su ruled that Lee’s remarks about his brother, made in a 2018 election debate, were in response to questions from an opponent and it was undemocratic for a state institution to regulate such comments.
“Such remarks cannot be regarded as a public act as their intention was to actively and unilaterally disclose factual information regardless of the debate topic or context,” Kim said.
Lee thanked the top court in a Facebook post for what he called a just decision.
“You have reaffirmed the faith that fake cannot defeat the truth,” he said.
“I have just realized how lucky I am to even be able to breathe here,” said Lee. “As grateful I am for the opportunity to continue my work.”
A former human rights lawyer and activist, Lee, is considered a likely top contender for the 2022 presidential election, consistently ranking second in opinion polls among possible liberal candidates.
President Moon Jae-in was elected in 2017. Presidents in South Korea serve one five-year term.
(Reporting by Sangmi Cha; Editing by Robert Birsel)