Time to pardon corporate leaders

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Time to pardon corporate leaders

Major business lobby groups have petitioned for the pardoning of corporate leaders in light of challenging the economic and business environment. Five major business organizations — the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Korea International Trade Association, the Korea Federation of SMEs, the Korea Enterprises Federation and the Federation of Middle Market Enterprises of Korea — submitted a request to the presidential office and the Ministry of Justice asking for special pardons for business leaders, including Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong and Lotte Group Chairman Shin Dong-bin.

The business lobby groups noted the Covid-19 pandemic, the U.S.-China conflict and the Russia-Ukraine war in arguing for the return of capable corporate leaders to fight the crisis and secure future competitiveness.

The plea reflects desperation and urgency on the economic front. Various data are triggering red alarms. The gross domestic product grew a mere 0.7 percent on quarter in the first quarter, suggesting difficulty in achieving an annual growth rate of 3 percent this year. Twin deficits in the fiscal and trade balance are inevitable from a surge in energy import costs. The U.S. dollar has shot up to above 1,270 won to make imports more expensive.

Entrepreneurship and innovation are the sole solution for a breakthrough against the growing adverse conditions. Signals from Samsung Electronics also suggest a crisis. Despite its best-ever quarterly revenue in the first quarter, the company’s stock price is at its lowest level since November 2020. Lee was released on parole last August after being sentenced to 30 months in jail. Even after his term is finished in July, his business activities will be restricted for five years. Shin was sentenced to 30 months, suspended for four years. The two can hardly embark on aggressive business activities.

Restricted maneuvering room for top business leaders in a tough business battlefield can seriously damage corporate competitiveness. As high-tech areas, including those related to semiconductors, are closely related to national security, U.S. President Joe Biden frequently summons technology and chip companies, including Samsung Electronics, to the White House for chip business discussions. Fast and precise business decisions, including the acquisition of other companies, are more important than ever.

During a meeting last year with chiefs of four business groups, President Moon Jae-in said he was aware of bold corporate roles in a rapidly changing business environment. The government must do its utmost to help companies do their best. The outgoing administration must proactively consider the request from business organizations and create an environment for corporate leaders to invest and create jobs through their aggressive investments and hiring.
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