Time to pardon Lee and corporate leadersPresident Yoon Suk-yeol hinted at the possibility of granting a special pardon for former president Lee Myung-bak. Asked about the issue by reporters on his way to work on Thursday, Yoon said it is simply not right to put the former president behind bars for more than 20 years given the past precedents. As a presidential candidate, Yoon mentioned the need for the special pardon several times. After former president Moon Jae-in exonerated Park Geun-hye ahead of Christmas last year, Yoon pointed to the need to “consider pardoning Lee from the perspective of national unity.”
As Lee requested a suspension of his prison term for health reasons, it seems appropriate for President Yoon to pardon Lee in the near future. Lee was imprisoned again for embezzlement and bribery in October 2020 after a short release for hospitalization earlier. He served for about two and half years after he was sentenced to 17 years in jail. Meanwhile, Park was put behind bars for four years and nine months. Though Lee’s service term is shorter than Park’s, Lee, at age 81, has been suffering a chronic illness. The imprisonment of the two former heads of state is a national tragedy.
Presidential pardon is necessary for national integration. In the face of negative public opinion toward special pardons, religious leaders pleaded with former president Moon to pardon Lee and former South Gyeongsang Gov. Kim Kyung-soo, a loyalist of Moon, citing the need for national harmony. Moon refused.
President Yoon must positively consider granting pardons to corporate leaders, including Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong. Past governments also did the same to help energize the economy. Five major business lobby groups, including the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry, already petitioned Moon for special pardons of about 150 business leaders, including Lee and Lotte Group Chairman Shin Dong-bin. Lee was released from prison on parole, but still faces many restrictions on commanding his company.
The Korean economy faces a crisis after the pandemic and Russian invasion of Ukraine. Prices of international commodities soared after the breakdown of global supply chains while the danger of stagflation sounds alarms for the economy as in the aftermath of the oil shocks in the 1970s. Constraining their business activities under such circumstances translates into a huge loss for the country.
In a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, President Yoon underscored the importance of semiconductors. They are “our assets for national security and the linchpin of our industry.” He must create a business environment for our conglomerates to rearm themselves with the spirit of challenge to win global competitions.