Pardons in line with anniversaryPresident Park Geun-hye said on Monday that she will issue special pardons next month in time for Liberation Day in August, ordering her secretariat to start reviewing a list of convicts who will receive them.
“There are many hardships in people’s lives these days,” Park said during a meeting with her senior secretaries.
“In order to uphold the meaning of the 70th anniversary of Liberation Day, and for the country’s development and national unity, there is a need to issue presidential pardons. Responsible secretaries should review the necessary scope and subjects.”
Liberation Day on Aug. 15 commemorates Korea’s independence from Japanese colonial rule. This year marks the 70th anniversary.
While it’s customary for Korea’s presidents to issue special pardons on the holiday, Park has refrained from exercising that right and has so far granted only one in January 2014 for 5,900 inmates convicted of minor crimes. No high-profile figures were included.
Speculation surrounds whether Park will issue pardons to convicted businessmen, in line with her aim for an economic recovery.
Last week, the Federation of Korean Industries (FKI), as well as the presidents of the country’s 30 largest conglomerates, issued a joint statement urging Park to issue special pardons to convicted businessmen.
“In order to overcome the economic recession, please provide these businessmen, who actually make decisions on investments, an opportunity to work in the field, so that they can contribute to the economy again,” they said.
Several of the owners of Korea’s largest business groups are either in prison or involved in court proceedings.
SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won has been imprisoned for two years and six months. His younger brother, SK Group Vice Chairman Chey Jae-won, is also serving a prison term.
Similarly, CJ Group Chairman Lee Jay-hyun is awaiting a Supreme Court trial. Due to his deteriorating health, he was released from detention and is currently receiving hospital treatment, pending an appeal at the highest court.
The FKI, which consists of the nation’s leading conglomerates, including Samsung Group, Hyundai Motor Group and SK Group, welcomed the possibility, following the president’s announcement.
However, the companies whose owners are currently serving prison terms or standing trial reacted carefully.
“It’s inappropriate to talk about a pardon for the chairman now, since nothing has been decided yet,” an SK Group spokesman said regarding its chairman. “What we can say right now is that we will keep focusing on our businesses and try to boost the local economy.”
LIG Nex1, a military weapon manufacturer, also carefully expressed hope that Park would grant a pardon to its Vice Chairman Koo Bon-sang, who has been imprisoned for two years and 10 months following a breach of trust conviction.
“We’ve had a hard time attracting new business, since most foreign investors want to meet the actual leader of the company in the defense industry,” said an LIG spokesman.
However, it was unclear whether CJ Group Chairman Lee will be included in the pardon, as his conviction has not been finalized. According to the law governing presidential pardons, only convicts whose sentencing has been finalized may receive clemency.
After being sentenced to three years in prison in his first appeal in September on charges of embezzlement and breach of trust, Lee took the case to the Supreme Court, and a final decision has yet to be made.
Lee Ho-jin, the former Taekwang Group chairman, is also waiting a Supreme Court decision after being sentenced in the lower courts to a four-and-a-half-year prison term in 2011 for corruption.
He was later given a reprieve so that he could receive treatment for a liver cancer diagnosis.
President Park has been particularly wary about granting special pardons to businessmen.
Earlier this year, she vowed to reform the current presidential pardon system to ensure fairness and transparency, a promise she made in the aftermath of a massive payoff scandal involving the late construction tycoon Sung Wan-jong, who claimed just before his death to have given money to her top political allies.
Park subsequently took aim at the main opposition, vowing an investigation into the special pardons granted to Sung by the Roh Moo-hyun administration.
In a message to the nation on April 28, the president stressed that she has only given presidential pardons to a limited number of people whose livelihoods were at risk.
“National consensus is especially necessary for a special pardon to be given to a businessman,” she said.
BY SER MYO-JA, KWON SANG-SOO [firstname.lastname@example.org]