Time to pardon former president LeeOn Wednesday, President Moon Jae-in and President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol have their first meeting after the March 9 presidential election. In their very private luncheon, the issue of granting a special pardon to former president Lee Myung-bak will be raised. On Tuesday, Rep. Kim Eun-hye, the spokesperson for Yoon’s transition committee, expressed hope that national harmony could be boosted through the meeting, saying the “president-elect has long harbored a request for pardoning Lee.
That follows in the footsteps of former president Kim Young-sam and president-elect Kim Dae-jung in December 1997, when the two discussed presidential pardons for former presidents Chun Doo Hwan and Roh Tae-woo. At that time, Kim Dae-jung described his request for pardoning them as a “symbolic measure reflecting my strong wish to put an end to political retaliation and regional confrontation.” His predecessor Kim Young-sam had brought the two former general-turned presidents to justice over their dark pasts, but heartily accepted his successor’s plea in order to open a new era of national reconciliation.
Moon and Yoon should take a first step on this path to national integration. Former president Lee Myung-bak, at the age of 81, has been behind bars for 27 months after he was sentenced to 17 years in jail for bribery and embezzlement in October 2020. But the charges against him were not directly related to state affairs. Lee was indicted for forcing Samsumg Group to pay the legal expenses needed to defend himself in a suit filed against an auto parts supplier effectively owned by him. Claiming he was not the owner of the company, Lee branded the sentence a “political retribution for the [tragic] death of former President Roh Moon-hyun.”
Moon pardoned his predecessor Park Geun-hye on Christmas last year after she was imprisoned for abuse of power. Moon said it was too early to pardon Lee Myung-bak given public sentiment. The Blue House linked the need for not pardoning him to his relatively short period of imprisonment and better health condition than Park’s. But it was a poor excuse that only suggested a diehard antipathy by Moon toward Lee.
Special pardons should not be abused. But it is better for Moon to exonerate Lee before his term expires. Moon himself stressed the importance of unifying a sharply divided public, as revealed in the March 9 election, as early as possible. As a senior lawmaker from the ruling party said, it is not a decision for the incumbent president to leave to Yoon.