[FOUNTAIN]When pardons are appropriateOn April 17, 1997, the Supreme Court ordered a life sentence and 17 years in prison for former Presidents Chun Doo Hwan and Roh Tae-woo, respectively. The court also imposed a penalty of 220.5 billion won ($ 214 million) on Mr. Chun and 262.8 billion on Mr. Roh.
On Dec. 22 of that year, then President Kim Young-sam pardoned the two former presidents, who had been imprisoned for less than two years. The justification was the “grand integration of the Korean people.” The life sentence and 17-year term meant nothing after only eight months.
Kim Hyeon-cheol, Kim Young-sam’s second son, who was being tried on a tax evasion charge while out on bail, suddenly withdrew his final appeal to the Supreme Court in July 1999. He was about to begin the two-year sentence set by the appeals court when he was pardoned in time for Liberation Day on Aug. 15. Not even a day of the two-year sentence was enforced. Then President Kim Dae-jung claimed that the special pardon was for the “grand harmony of the Korean people.”
A pardon is a privilege granted only to the head of state to nullify legal penalties or limit their effect. The Constitution and the amnesty law define the president’s authority. Historically, the right originates from the prerogative of mercy by an absolute monarch. The German philosopher Hegel stated in his “Element of the Philosophy of Right” that the right to pardon “is to be found only in the majesty of the sovereign and is the prerogative of the sovereign’s ungrounded decision.”
In terms of forgiveness, a pardon is a good thing. Former South African President Nelson Mandela created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the late 1990s, and gave pardons to violators in order to overcome the legacy of apartheid and bring the nation together. However, he had a grand premise ― only those who had confessed and repented for their crimes could be pardoned.
The military, authoritarian and democratic past administrations have all abused the right to pardon with various fancy justifications. The “monarchic presidents” generously granted pardons to corrupt politicians just because they were close to power. But a pardon with a political consideration or at the personal will of the president distorts the authority of the judiciary. The president is overruling the decision of the judges and prosecutors as if by the turn of a hand. The administration and the ruling party are discussing pardons. They are talking about the politicians who were involved in the campaign fund scandal. Do they think that the politicians have repented for their crimes? Today, Mr. Chun and Mr. Roh still conceal slush funds and challenge the public to find them.
by Ko Dae-hoon
The writer is a deputy city news editor for the JoongAng Ilbo.