The Supreme Court on Friday upheld a lower court's decision to exonerate the main opposition Liberty Korea Party's leader of bribery charges in a high-profile lobbying scandal, sparing it from what would have been a major political setback.
Hong Joon-pyo, the party's chairman and former presidential candidate, was accused of receiving 100 million won (US$92,541) from Sung Wan-jong, the late former head of Kyungnam Corp., a local construction firm, ahead of its leadership election in 2011.
The final ruling came as the party has been scrambling to enhance its image by dissociating itself from the corruption-plagued former President Park Geun-hye and regroup conservative politicians ahead of next year's local elections.
Hong was indicted in July 2015 as part of the prosecution's probe into a suspected "bribery list" that Sung left behind before committing suicide in April 2015. The list included big-name politicians, including former Prime Minister Lee Wan-koo, who had been accused of pocketing 30 million won.
Also on Friday, the top court upheld the lower court's ruling to clear Lee of the bribery charges.
Hong's party has been watching the trial with bated breath, as the outcome could influence its reform drive to shore up public trust and turn the political pendulum in favor of it ahead of the elections slated for next June.
But the drive has been marred by a series of party lawmakers mired in corruption scandals, including Rep. Choi Kyung-hwan, who is suspected of taking illicit money from the National Intelligence Service in 2014, when he served as finance minister.
Hong's party called Friday's ruling "very delighting," vowing to redouble its reform efforts.
"We will unite behind Hong's firm leadership and push to be reborn as the party of new conservatism by focusing on personnel, organizational and policy innovations," Chang Je-won, the party spokesman, said in a commentary.. (Yonhap News)