MB’s pardons outrage Park, parties
President Lee Myung-bak yesterday granted special pardons to associates convicted of graft as well as politicians close to President-elect Park Geun-hye and the late President Roh Moo-hyun in defiance of protests from his successor.
Lee presided over a cabinet meeting at the Blue House yesterday and approved a motion to grant special presidential pardons, Park Jeong-ha, Lee’s spokesman, said. A total of 55 convicts were pardoned including Lee’s political mentor Choi See-joong and longtime friend Chun Shin-il.
Both Choi and Chun were convicted of receiving bribes in influence-peddling cases.
Former lawmaker Suh Chung-won, a political ally of Park Geun-hye, was also granted a pardon.
Former lawmakers Suh Gab-won, Kim Jong-yull and Woo Je-hang of the Democratic United Party were pardoned. Two former secretaries in the Roh Blue House, Park Jeong-gyu and Jeong Sang-mun, were also on the list.
The list included two former National Assembly speakers, 12 political heavyweights, five former civil servants and 14 businessmen.
Lee’s decision to pardon not only his close allies but also ruling and opposition politicians displeased many people in public life, including his successor. The ruling and opposition parties also issued statements to condemn the president’s special pardons in the final month of his term.
Park warned Lee Monday in an unusually sharp message to be careful about his pardons, telling him to avoid “abuse of presidential power.”
At the cabinet meeting, Lee made the rare move of explaining the reasons behind his pardons.
“When I took this office, I promised to not abuse the presidential authority for special pardons, particularly over abuses of power that took place during my term,” Lee was quoted as saying by his spokesman. “These pardons were granted based on that principle.”
Lee stressed that he tried to be transparent by asking an evaluation committee that included many outside members to review the list. It was the first time that the presidential pardons were decided through such a process, he said.
Lee said he didn’t include any of his relatives or people convicted in the savings bank scandals or the scandal over illegal spying on citizens. He said some business lobby groups were granted pardons at the recommendation of the major business groups.
For the sake of social unity, Lee said he granted special pardons to five people jailed over the deadly clashes between the police and squatters in Yongsan, central Seoul, in 2009.
According to the presidential spokesman, the cabinet was not originally scheduled to review the special pardon plan, but the justice minister presented it. It was reviewed and approved at the meeting, he said.
Of the 55, 16 convicts will be released from jail tomorrow, while the remaining prison terms for three people were cut in half. For 18 people who received suspended sentences, their sentences will be expunged.
Another 18 people who completed their sentences will be rehabilitated.
The ruling and opposition parties slammed Lee for the pardons.
“Except for Lee’s close associates, everyone else opposed these special pardons,” said Representative Park Ki-choon, floor leader of the opposition Democratic United Party. “Not even a king from the Joseon Dynasty went this far. The people disagree, the National Assembly opposes it and even the president-elect is rejecting it. He must reconsider.”
Another DUP spokeswoman, Representative Lee Un-ju, said the DUP will try to revise the laws governing pardons.
Lee’s own ruling Saenuri Party also criticized him. “The Blue House defied the people directly by granting special pardons to the president’s close associates who were convicted of abuse of power,” said Representative Lee Sang-il, spokesman of the party. “It is an abuse of presidential authority and against judicial justice.”
The spokesman also made clear the party’s disappointments at Lee’s timing. “It goes against the people’s desire for reform in politics in time for the launch of the new administration,” he said. “The Saenuri Party has no choice but to express strong discontent.”
Some critics pointed out that a cousin of Lee’s son-in-law was pardoned. Cho Hyun-joon, president of Hyosung Group, convicted of embezzling $5.5 million from the company to purchase real estate in the United States, was one of the 55 on the list.
“He received the pardon because he is a businessman,” an official at the Ministry of Justice said.
“Because he is a cousin of the president’s son-in-law, technically he is not a presidential kin.”
Former National Assembly speakers Park Hee-tae and Park Kwan-yong were pardoned.
Lee granted pardons to his two former presidential secretaries, Kim Yeon-gwang and Kim Hyo-jae.
The 14 pardoned businessmen included Lee’s close friend Chun Shin-il, former chairman of Sejoong Namo Tour, former KT president Nam Joong-soo and Park Joo-tak, former chairman of Soosan Group.
Eight convicts received humanitarian pardons including three elderly people and one foreigner.
By Ser Myo-ja [firstname.lastname@example.org]