After acquittal, Ahn says case was an attack by president

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After acquittal, Ahn says case was an attack by president

After two lawmakers of the People’s Party were acquitted by a local court of a political funding scandal, Ahn Cheol-soo, the party’s former chairman, said Wednesday the charges were part of the Park Geun-hye administration’s campaign to damage him and his party.

Seoul Western District Court acquitted Reps. Park Sun-sook and Kim Su-min of the People’s Party of election law and political-funding law violations. The two proportional lawmakers were close associates of Ahn.

The court said Wednesday the prosecution failed to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The prosecution said it will appeal.

Shortly after the April 13 general election last year, Park and Kim were accused of receiving kickbacks during the party’s campaign. Kim was in charge of public relations for Ahn’s new centrist political party and Park, the secretary general of the party, oversaw the campaign fund account.

The scandal dealt a serious blow to the People’s Party, which won 38 seats in the election to become the third-largest group in the legislature. After the suspicions were raised, Ahn, a tycoon-turned-lawmaker and a presidential contender, stepped down from chairmanship of the party last June.

“Politics is about taking responsibility,” Ahn said at the time, surrendering his leadership over the 149-day-old political party, which he launched last February.

“It was the Park administration’s attempt to kill me and the People’s Party,” Ahn said Wednesday. “To save the party, I stepped down.”

He said the Park administration’s probe into the lawmakers and the party’s election campaign must be investigated. “There are rumors that Woo Byung-woo planned the investigation,” Ahn said. “This allegation must be thoroughly investigated.”

Woo is the former civil affairs senior secretary to the president. The People’s Party’s spokeswoman, Goh Yeon-ho, also said the acquittals clearly showed an abuse of power.

“The National Election Commission abandoned its duty to maintain a fair management of the election and conducted a biased investigation to oppress a new political party,” she said. “And the prosecution recklessly pursued the cases to satisfy the administration.”

It remains to be seen if Ahn and the People’s Party’s sinking popularity will rebound after the acquittals. Immediately after the April general election, Ahn’s approval rating was 18.9 percent and the People’s Party’s was 23.9 percent in a survey by the Realmeter, but Ahn’s rating fell to 11.5 percent and the People’s Party fell to 15.5 percent last June after the scandal broke out. In the latest poll, conducted during the first week of January, Ahn’s rating was 6.5 percent and the People’s Party’s was 10.9 percent.

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