Seoul High Court on Friday suspended the sentence of Seoul education superintendent Cho Hi-yeon, who was accused of conducting a smear campaign against his rival candidate in last year’s election.
The ruling would allow him to retain his post if confirmed.
If a person whose sentence has been suspended commits no further offenses for two years, his or her charges are expunged under Korean law.
While the appellate court found Cho partially guilty of spreading false rumors against opposing candidate Koh Seung-duk, it said Cho’s actions had little effect on the outcome of the election.
“(Cho’s actions) were to verify (Koh’s) qualifications as a public official, and cannot be regarded as malicious propaganda aiming to defame him,” the court said in its ruling.
After the ruling, Cho told the reporters that the ruling showed that appropriate accusations concerning a candidate’s qualification should be respected. But he added that his actions should have been more prudent, and offered an apology to Koh.
The prosecution, on the other hand, vowed to appeal the case, saying it could not comprehend how the court came to such a decision.
Cho had been accused by local prosecutors of spreading false rumors about Koh’s children having U.S. green cards to derail his campaign during their race for the capital’s top educator post.
In April, a lower court ruling had fined Cho 5 million won ($4,189) for violating the election law, which would have stripped Cho of his post if upheld.
Cho’s legal representatives had claimed that his accusation did not play a crucial part in the election, and that Koh’s own family feud was what made him lose.
By Yoon Min-sik