Moon pardons lots of politicians

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Moon pardons lots of politicians

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From left: Lee Kwang-jae, Kwak No-hyun, Han Sang-gyun

President Moon Jae-in will grant special pardons today to over 5,000 convicts including his political ally Lee Kwang-jae, the government said Monday, prompting speculation that the Blue House is worried about the general election in four months.

According to a Ministry of Justice press release, special pardons will be granted to 5,174 convicts as of today. The government will also issue special exemptions to administrative punishments on more than 1.71 million people whose drivers’ and fishing licenses were canceled or suspended for offenses. Of the 5,174 who are receiving special pardons, Moon included hundreds of politicians, in contrast to his pardons in 2017 and March 2018, when he kept the number of politicians to a minimum.

Among the pardoned politicians is former Gangwon Governor Lee, a key ally of the late President Roh Moo-hyun. Lee was convicted of receiving $95,000 in illegal political funds from Park Yeon-cha, chairman of Taekwang Industrial and a patron of Roh, in 2011 and lost his governor position.

Also pardoned are former Rep. Gong Sung-jin of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP), also convicted of a political funding law violation, and former president of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) Han Sang-gyun, convicted in 2015 of having organized violent illegal rallies. Others who made the list were 267 election law violators. Former Seoul Metropolitan Education Office head Kwak No-hyun, a renowned liberal activist, was among them. In 2012, Kwak bribed a competitor to drop out of the race to lead the education office.

The Blue House said its decision to include the politicians was intended to promote social unity.

“Only a small number of election law violators received pardons this time,” a presidential aide said Monday, explaining that the number is far smaller than the 2,375 election law violators pardoned in 2010.

Politicians convicted of election law violations in the 2008 general election and 2010 local elections were pardoned, according to the Blue House. Their right to run for office were restricted twice: in the 2012 and 2016 general elections and 2014 and 2018 local elections, the Blue House said. In pardons in 2010, it said, politicians were pardoned after missing only one election.

Controversy still flared about Lee Kwang-jae receiving pardon because Moon made a presidential pledge in 2017 that he would not pardon five kinds of crimes - bribery, accepting and offering bribes in return for influencing public servants, breach of trust and embezzlement. Lee was excluded from the two previous rounds of special pardons.

“Lee was convicted of a political funding law violation, and he didn’t accept the money in return for any favor,” the presidential official said, insisting that Lee does not fall into any of the five major corruption categories.

Asked if Lee’s receiving of nearly $100,000 from the businessman was not serious corruption, the official said, “He didn’t accept $100,000. He got $25,000. If you start looking at the amount, former Rep. Gong [of the LKP] accepted a far larger sum.”

(Later, the official corrected that Lee did receive $95,000 but maintained that it was not a bribe.)

The Blue House official also dismissed speculation that the special pardons were designed to boost the fortunes of the ruling Democratic Party (DP) in the April general election. “There was no political consideration at all,” she said.

Speculation, however, grew that Lee will run for a lawmaker seat in Gangwon on the DP ticket to revive falling approval ratings for Moon and the DP in the region. Lee won legislative elections in 2004 and 2008 in the Taebaek-Yeongwol-Pyeongchang-Jeongseon District of Gangwon. In 2010, he was elected Gangwon governor with 54.4 percent of the vote.

Pardoning Kwak, a liberal activist, was apparently a move to reconcile with the civic community. Some liberal civic groups including the Citizens’ Coalition for Economic Justice are increasingly turning their back on the Moon administration.

The decision to pardon Han, the first directly elected leader of the KCTU, was intended to seek reconciliation with the labor community.

Conspicuously missing from the special pardons list was former lawmaker Lee Seok-ki. The Blue House official said the former lawmaker was not pardoned because he is not a typical convict. Lee, a member of the disbanded Unified Progressive Party, was convicted of instigating an armed rebellion and violating the National Security Law.

Former President Park Geun-hye is not eligible for a pardon because she is standing trial on abuse of power charges.

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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