The presidential pardon of former Samsung Group chairman Lee Kun-hee paves the way for him to take back the helm of the country`s biggest conglomerate and to facilitate a smooth power transfer to his only son and heir apparent Jae-yong, observers said yesterday.
The government yesterday announced a special presidential amnesty for the convicted business tycoon, saying that it hopes Lee, a suspended member of the International Olympic Committee, will rally support for Korea`s third bid to host the Winter Olympics to its eastern city of Pyeongchang.
Lee`s pardon came just four months after a Seoul court handed him a three-year suspended prison term and a fine of 110 billion won ($89.2 million) on conviction of illegal bond deals that helped him hand over part of control of the group to his son.
"We would like to thank government officials and the people," a Samsung spokesman said yesterday.
"We will do our best to live up to the people`s expectations in PyeongChang`s bid to host the Winter Olympics." he said.
Samsung hopes the amnesty will help restore the reputation of its former chief, who quit in April last year in the wake of a corruption scandal. His son also relinquished his post as "chief customer officer" to coincide with his father`s resignation. The senior Lee, who served as Samsung Group chairman for two decades, is credited with transforming Samsung, a family-run company founded by his father, into the country`s biggest conglomerate and its flagship affiliate, Samsung Electronics, into Asia`s most valuable tech firm. Samsung Electronics is the world`s top maker of TVs, memory chips and LCD screens and the No. 2 maker of handsets.
Watchers said that despite the pardon, the senior Lee is unlikely to return to the top management post of Samsung Group anytime soon in view of the fact that negative public views linger. As the largest shareholder of the group, he still exerts influence on the its management, they said.
For now, he will focus on campaigning for Seoul`s bid to host the 2018 Winter Olympics, observers said.
"He may return to management as early as March next year when Samsung Electronics holds its annual shareholders` meeting. But In my view, Lee is unlikely to hurry to return to management. Next year, he will have to do activities as an IOC member," said Jeong Sun-sup, CEO of chaebol.com, a company specializing in collecting and analyzing data on conglomerates.
The Lees are expected to make official appearances at the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show, the world`s top technology tradeshow, which will be held in Las Vegas next week. Early this month, the Junior Lee was named as chief operating officer of Samsung Electronics. This was the first time in more than a year and a half that he assumed a management post at Samsung.
The country`s five major business lobby groups, which had strongly appealed to President Lee to pardon Lee, welcomed the announcement made by the Justice Ministry.
"We hope Lee will make a bigger contribution to the national economy," the Korea Camber of Commerce & Industry said in a statement.
But civic groups and opposition parties criticized President Lee of abusing his power and undermining the rule of law.
On the Aug. 15 ,Liberation Day, President Lee pardoned convicted business leaders including Hyundai-Kia Automotive chairman Chung Mong-koo, SK Group chief Chey Tae-won and Hanhwa Group boss Kim Seung-youn.
The amnesty of Lee was his second. He had first been convicted of bribery charges in 1996. President Kim Young-sam pardoned him the following year.
By Jin Hyun-joo