|Gyeonggi Province Governor Lee Jae-myung leaves the Seongnam branch of Suwon District Court, Seongnam, Thursday, after being cleared of charges of power abuse and Election Law violations. / Yonhap|
By Lee Suh-yoon
A Suwon court cleared Gyeonggi Province Governor Lee Jae-myung of charges of abuse of power and violating the Election Law, Thursday, saying the governor's actions to commit his brother to a mental health facility could not be seen as an abuse of his authority.
The Seongnam branch of Suwon District Court ruled Lee not guilty of the four charges brought against him ― one alleging abuse of power, and three claiming he gave false information during election campaigns.
Last year, prosecutors indicted Lee on charges of abusing his power as mayor of Seongnam in 2012 to order a regional health center head and a mental health doctor to prepare documents that could forcibly commit his elder brother to a mental health facility. Lee denied the charges, saying what he was trying to do was not "forcible hospitalization" but a "forcible checkup." Lee's brother, a far-right conservative, is well-known for vehemently speaking out against Lee's political career in the press.
"Lee's attempt to put his brother in the health facility was a legal process for public interest according to the mental health law, so his actions were not illegal," the court said in the ruling. "Lee had ample reason to consider his brother's actions as symptoms of mental illness and decide on his hospitalization."
Lee was also indicted for violating the Election Law on three counts by making false claims during televised debates and political campaigns in the lead-up to last year's local elections, where he landed the position of Gyeonggi governor.
One of those false claims is that he never forcibly hospitalized his brother. In another, he denied that he had pretended to be a prosecutor during an interview while he was a human rights lawyer ― of which he was found guilty and fined in 2004. The last claim was that he exaggerated the financial results of a regional development project he undertook as Seongnam mayor.
The court dismissed the charges, saying personal claims of innocence and exaggeration did not constitute disseminating false information.
Lee, 54, was one of the ruling party candidates for the 2017 presidential election, coming in third in the primary following incumbent President Moon Jae-in and former South Chungcheong Province Governor An Hee-jung, who is now retired and behind bars on rape charges. Lee's name has been mentioned again for the presidential election in 2022.
Lee has denied all charges in the hearings leading up to Thursday's ruling.
Lee's political image was one Koreans doted on: a teenage factory worker who studied hard to get a scholarship and pass the tests to become a human rights lawyer. As Gyeonggi governor, and formerly Seongnam mayor, Lee was known for securing generous welfare policies. His image, however, was tarnished badly in recent years by the charges and a sex scandal involving an actress, who claimed Lee hid his marriage from her when they first met in 2007.
Lee thanked the judge panel and his supporters after the ruling, saying he will work to improve the lives of citizens in Gyeonggi Province.