Political arena floats parole for jailed executives

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Political arena floats parole for jailed executives

The Blue House said on Friday that it was up to the Ministry of Justice to decide whether to grant parole to Korea’s imprisoned business group leaders, a statement that raised speculations over whether the government could be considering their release.

Speaking before reporters, Blue House spokesman Min Kyung-wook said it is within the authority held by Justice Minister Hwang Kyo-an to decide whether to release corporate CEOs on parole.

Talk regarding parole for company executives, including SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won and his younger brother, Vice Chairman Chey Jae-won, was floated this week after senior Saenuri Party lawmakers suggested their release in the name of aiding the economy.

Finance Minister Choi Kyung-hwan reportedly recommended earlier this week that President Park Geun-hye grant special parole to jailed executives to boost Korea’s stagnate economy and help in job creation. Choi’s suggestion followed Saenuri Chairman Kim Moo-sung’s remark that releasing imprisoned business group chiefs was necessary given the economic situation.

In order to meet the criteria for parole, inmates must serve a third or more of their sentences and demonstrate good behavior. Both Cheys from SK Group are eligible for special treatment.

A parole board at the Justice Ministry, presided over by the vice justice minister, examines eligibility for release and passes on the suggestion to the minister, who has the final say.

The elder Chey is serving the longest prison term of any conglomerate owner and has completed a third of his term, making him eligible for parole. He was convicted in January 2013 of multiple charges, including embezzlement, and was sentenced to four years in prison. Chey will serve his 700th day in jail on Dec. 31.

CJ Group Chairman Lee Jay-hyun, meanwhile, is currently ineligible for the parole. His case is still pending a verdict from the Supreme Court and he has not yet fulfilled one-third of his sentence.

Although the Blue House did not officially endorse granting parole for the convicted executives, its deference to the Justice Ministry could have been interpreted as its tacit recognition of the need to allow company heads more leniency in the legal system.

The Justice Ministry said on Friday that it will treat the issue in accordance with the law and did not specify whether it was considering parole for the business owners.

Whether the ministry will move to parole the elder Chey appears to hinge on public sentiment on the special treatment for business executives.

Attitudes toward conglomerates have hardened over the past few weeks after Cho Hyun-ah, the former vice president of Korean Air Lines (KAL), forced an Incheon-bound plane back to the gate at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport to eject the cabin manager following a dispute about the way the macadamia nuts were served in first class.

The nut-rage scandal left a negative impression on the public and only served to reinforce widespread views that business owners feel a certain sense of entitlement and promote nepotism.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [jkkang2@joongang.co.kr]

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