Don’t delay the pardonPresident Moon Jae-in said he was aware of the difficulties caused by the absence of leadership at the country’s top conglomerate Samsung Electronics when executives from the four largest chaebol asked for a special pardon for Samsung chief Lee Jae-yong, currently serving a prison term in connection with the bribery case of former President Park Geun-hye. “The business condition today is panning out differently from the past. I am well aware that a bold corporate role is needed at such times,” said Moon.
It has been his most positive remark on the issue. During the press conference marking his fourth year in office on May 10, he said Lee’s pardon must be considered in the context of fairness, past precedents and public consensus. His comment at the time was understood as placing public opinion as the decisive factor behind a presidential pardon. This time, he said, “Many among the people sympathize with the need” for a pardon.
SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won, who co-chairs the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry, raised the issue first, asking the president to study the pardoning recommendation from five business organizations. Kim Ki-nam, vice chairman of Samsung Electronics who attended the luncheon on Lee’s behalf, said that in chipmaking, big investment decisions cannot be made quickly without the chair. The president asked Kim to make sure his recommendation referred to Lee’s pardoning, and answered that he understands many people’s agreement on the need.
Moon may still be in a good mood after the summit in the United States. He invited the four chiefs to the Blue House for the first time since taking office and promised support for their investments. He thanked them for their bold investments and contribution to the summit that helped produce successful results. Moon recalled how Biden called them up and thanked them. His thought on Lee’s pardon must have softened after witnessing how big a role corporarations plays in state affairs.
Korea has competitive superiority in chip and battery capacity and technology. But its competitiveness could be replaced. The heads of five economic organizations petitioning for Lee’s release stressed the need for his leadership to preemptively respond to the global chip competition and make bold investments. If Moon truly understands the corporate dilemma and believes there is public consensus, there is no reason to delay a positive review of sending Lee back to work.