SEOUL — Soo Park, the CEO and founder of Korean PR firm News Communications,  has been acquitted of charges of fraud and extortion, according to newspaper reports from the country.

Park was arrested in August 2016, after being questioned by prosecutors following a raid on News Communications offices in Seoul. The firm found itself ensared in the corruption probe into Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering (DSME), after handling a US$1.8m PR contract for the latter company.

A district court in Korea cited a lack of evidence in clearing Park, after prosecutors alleged that Park received the PR fees in return for lobbying policymakers and Min Yoo-sung, former president of the Korea Development Bank (KDB), to help former DSME CEO Nam Sang-tae extend his term. Prosecutors demanded seven years in prison and a 2.1 billion won fine for Park.

"Given that Nam was expecting that he could serve consecutive terms, it is unlikely that he asked Park for additional help," the court said. Min also reportedly testified that other contenders for DSME CEO were not considered.

Park was also acquitted of charges of deceiving Kumho Asiana Group by illegally providing lawsuit strategies or legal consulting under the pretext of PR services. "It is hard to recognize it as fraud if there are no tangible outcomes," the court said. 

Park's legal woes triggered heightened scrutiny of the Korean public relations industry, in a country where government lobbying is illegal. NewsCom is often viewed as a unique player in the market, thanks to its close government links, which have helped it build a client base that includes Google, Huawei, P&G and Ikea.