President Park Geun-hye on Thursday granted special pardons to thousands of Koreans convicted of minor crimes and millions who received administrative penalties as part of efforts to achieve national unity ahead of the Aug. 15 Liberation Day.
The president also exercised her special power to pardon 14 high-profile businessmen including SK Group chairman Chey Tae-won who was imprisoned for more than two years for embezzlement. The list of 13 other businessmen included Hanhwa vice chairman Kim Hyun-joong and Yeochun NCC CEO Hong Dong-wook.
However, Hanhwa chairman Kim Seung-yeon was excluded, as were all politicians convicted of corruption and other wrongdoings.
SK Group chairman Chey Tae-won (Yonhap)
Chey is the first business tycoon to be released by a pardon from Park. The president has rarely used her right to give clemency ahead of the national holidays, stressing her principle that the law should be administered strictly and all criminal offenders treated equally.
The list was released by Justice Minister Kim Hyun-woong after a Cabinet meeting held at Cheong Wa Dae.
The president said she was exercising her special power to achieve national unity, economic revitalization and to “boost the people’s pride” ahead of Liberation Day.
"I decided to grant special pardons to offer an opportunity for people from low-income families and small businesses so that they could stand on their feet again,” she said.
"Also, to revive the sluggish economy and to create new jobs, I have decided to grant pardons to some entrepreneurs as well as some construction and software companies.”
A total of 6,527 people with criminal convictions, were released and reinstated. About 2.2 million people facing penalties for breaching administrative measures such as drunken driving were also pardoned.
Park has granted special pardons once so far, and only for minor crimes committed by those living in poverty on Lunar New Year’s Day last year. She had not granted presidential pardons to politicians or businessmen in prison since taking office in early 2013.
Last month, Park vowed to grant special pardons to mark the Liberation Day, in a surprise move seen as a conciliatory gesture toward business circles.
Under the law, South Korean presidents are not required to seek parliamentary endorsement for their exercise of special pardons.
South Korea’s business community hailed Park’s decision, pledging to support the government’s drive to revitalize the economy. Some still expressed concerns, saying that the scale of presidential pardons was smaller than expected.
By Cho Chung-un (firstname.lastname@example.org