A South Korean court has rejected an arrest warrant for the leader of the country's main opposition party on graft charges, a move that could embolden the political heavyweight before a national election in April.

The Seoul District Court ruled after a hearing Tuesday that Democratic Party leader Lee Jae-myung should not be arrested. Lee, who a few days before the hearing ended a hunger strike that put him in the hospital, entered court with the aid of a walking stick. He has denied any wrongdoing.

His appearance marked the first time a South Korean opposition leader has faced a court hearing for an arrest warrant, the Yonhap news agency said.