Talk of pardon for Lee Myung-bak gathers steam
Yoon made the remark on his way into the presidential office after reporters asked for a reaction to an exclusive JoongAng Ilbo report that said Lee, who was president from 2008 to 2013, filed for a suspension of his sentence and could be listed for a presidential pardon in time for Liberation Day, which annually falls on Aug. 15.
The 80-year-old former president has been serving a 17-year sentence for embezzlement and bribery since November 2020.
While running for president, Yoon didn’t shy away from advocating Lee’s release, telling local media that a pardon was needed for the nation to move forward and get beyond bipartisanship. Yoon’s close aides told the JoongAng Ilbo on Wednesday that Yoon still stood by that belief, though he has made no public remarks about it since taking office on May 10.
The JoongAng Ilbo reported Tuesday that Lee filed for a suspension of his sentence with the prosecution’s Anyang branch, which is overseeing his imprisonment, last Friday, citing deteriorating health.
Lee is known to be suffering from diabetes.
Upon reviewing the request, the Anyang branch is expected to pass it on to the Suwon District Prosecutors’ Office, where a committee will make a recommendation. The head of the Suwon District Prosecutors’ Office will have the final say on whether Lee's jail term should be suspended.
A high-level official in Yoon’s office told the JoongAng Ilbo Wednesday that the president will await the prosecutors' decision. The head of the Suwon District Prosecutors’ Office, Hong Seung-wook, is known to be close to Yoon, who formerly served as head of the state prosecution agency.
Even if Hong green-lights Lee’s suspension, the former president’s jail term will remain valid. Some legal experts predict Hong will authorize Lee’s suspension and Yoon will follow up with a presidential pardon on Liberation Day to finally set Lee free.
Talk about a pardon for Lee has been going for months, especially after former conservative President Park Geun-hye was pardoned last December by former liberal President Moon Jae-in.
Moon was said to have reviewed pardons for both Lee and Park, but Lee’s was ultimately dropped.
Park’s pardon came as she was serving 22 years in prison for corruption and abuse of power. After being impeached, Park was removed from office in early 2017.
While announcing Park's pardon, then-Justice Minister Park Beom-kye said Lee and Park’s “circumstances were different,” and that the Moon administration had to “take public sentiment into consideration.”
In a survey conducted by the Korea Society Opinion Institute last March, 51.7 percent of some 1,000 respondents said they were against pardoning Lee, while 40.4 percent said they supported the pardon.
Rep. Kweon Seong-dong, floor leader of Yoon’s People Power Party, said Wednesday it was “unfair” that Park had been pardoned and not Lee, saying Lee should be granted the same treatment for the sake of national unity.
BY LEE SUNG-EUN, KIM KI-JEONG [email@example.com]