US & Canada

US Supreme Court overturns ex-Virginia governor's conviction

The US Supreme Court overturned the bribery conviction of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell. Image copyright AP
Image caption The former governor was sentenced to two years in prison

The US Supreme Court has overturned a conviction against former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell on public corruption charges.

Mr McDonnell, 62, and his wife were found guilty in 2014 of accepting gifts from a businessman in exchange for promoting a dietary supplement.

The high court rejected the government's broad interpretation of what constitutes bribery.

The court was unanimous in its decision.

"There is no doubt that this case is distasteful; it may be worse than that," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the opinion.

"But our concern is not with tawdry tales of Ferraris, Rolexes, and ball gowns. It is instead with the broader legal implications of the government's boundless interpretation of the federal bribery statute."

Mr McDonnell was convicted of taking in excess of $175,000 (£135,504) in gifts and loans - including a Rolex watch, designer clothing and vacations - from Star Scientific boss Jonnie Williams in return for promoting the businessman's vitamin firm.

Mr Williams had testified under immunity as the prosecution's witness.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Mrs McDonnell (right) also accepted gifts from Mr Williams (left)

The Republican governor, once a rising star in his party, has said he was never behind any "official acts" or government favours to benefit Mr Williams.

He argued he only performed routine courtesies for the businessman like setting up meetings and hosting events.

The Supreme Court agreed with Mr McDonnell, ruling that "setting up a meeting, calling another public official, or hosting an event does not, standing alone, qualify as an official act".

The ruling provided a more limited interpretation of what bars public officials from taking gifts in exchange for "official acts", which could make it more difficult to prosecute similar cases in the future.

The former governor was sentenced to two years in prison, but was released on bail while he awaited his appeal.

His wife, Maureen McDonnell, was sentenced to one year and one day in prison, but also remained free during her appeals process.

The case will be sent back to lower courts to decide whether prosecutors have enough evidence to retry Mr McDonnell.

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