Evolution of special pardons

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Evolution of special pardons

The author is a national 2 team reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.

If pardon is an exclusive right of the president, the special pardon at the end of the term is the king of all pardons. Pardon means forgiving and release of an offender. Article 79 of the Constitution grants the president the right to pardon criminals, exempting or reducing execution of sentence or reinstatement.

According to the related law, there are two types of pardons — general pardon and special pardon. General pardon is executed by designating certain types of crimes for pardon by an executive order. Special pardon is for specific individuals and does not require consent of the National Assembly, as general pardon does.

Special pardon applies to a small number of people, but they get more attention as they often include key figures. As the end of the president’s term approached, some criminals opted to give up an appeal to the court.

The special pardon at the end of the presidential term represented a political decision between the old and new powers to help achieve national integration. Former President Kim Young-sam accepted president-elect Kim Dae-jung’s proposal in late 1997 and pardoned former general-turned-presidents Chun Doo Hwan and Roh Tae-woo. After the financial crisis and IMF bailout in 1998, owners of major corporations began to be included on the special pardon list with the justification to “revive the economy.” For instance, President Kim Dae-jung pardoned former Hanbo Group Chairman Chung Tae-soo in late 2002 shortly after the election for the next president.

Since the Roh Moo-hyun administration, special pardons included the president’s close friends involved in corruption. President Roh’s last special pardon in late 2997 included former Blue House secretary Choi Do-sul, who was called “the president’s butler.” Less than a month before his term ended in 2013, President Lee Myung-bak included Choi See-joong, his “political mentor” and former head of the Korea Communications Commission, and Chun Sin-il, his Korea University classmate and chairman of the Sejoong Namo Tour in his New Year’s special pardon list.

There are talks that current President Moon Jae-in would announce his last special pardon for Buddha’s Birthday on May 8, a day before Moon’s term ends. The list is expected to include a former president, Samsung Chairman Lee Jae-yong, and Moon’s aide. The special pardon is the president’s power guaranteed by the Constitution, but an excessive use of it would be criticized for undermining the rule of law. I am curious to see if the president will exercise the power to grant a special pardon to them before leaving his office.
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