Stop abusing presidential pardons

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Stop abusing presidential pardons

The reckless and rampant pardoning of criminals is one reason why Koreans do not trust our justice system. A presidential pardon is an extraordinary authority bestowed on the chief executive by the Constitution. But it can undermine the criminal justice system. Pardoning a criminal convicted in a legitimate court goes against the principles of law and order, the division of power, and equality.

Special pardons are the most controversial. Past presidents rolled them out as favors to aides, friends and businessmen serving jail terms for corruption. President Kim Young-sam issued special pardons nine times during his term, Presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun gave eight. President Lee Myung-bak issued seven. President Park Geun-hye last year offered one. The pardons by Presidents Roh and Lee were especially controversial because they mostly involved their aides. The government amended the pardon law in 2012 to raise transparency and fairness in the selection of people subject to amnesty.

But the system is still flawed. This was underscored by the case with Sung Wan-jong, former chairman of Keangnam Enterprises, who committed suicide during an investigation for corruption and bribery. He triggered an explosive political scandal by leaving behind evidence that he had paid off politicians for years. Sung had received special pardons twice.

President Park Geun-hye emphasized the loopholes and abuses in the system. She ordered revisions in the law to ensure more transparency and fairness in the exercise of presidential pardons. But her motive for targeting the special pardons for Sung made during Roh’s presidency has been questioned as an attempt to divert attention away from her aides, who are suspected of receiving kickbacks from the businessman.

The incident provides an opportunity to review and upgrade the system.

There have been 11 motions to revise the special pardon system under the current legislature. It has been demanded that business owners, families and relatives of the president, and public officials appointed by the president, be exempted from any pardons. There have also been suggestions that there should be a waiting period on any pardons like in the United States, which only allows pardons for convicts after they serve at least five years in jail. Making the pardon review committee an independent body, diversifying the members and disclosing the records of the review meetings also are suggestions worth paying heed to.

JoongAng Ilbo, May 7, Page 34
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