President Park Geun-hye granted special pardons Thursday to 14 convicted businessmen including SK Group chairman Chey Tae-won and some 6,500 people to mark the 70th anniversary of Korea’s Liberation Day on Aug. 15.
The Liberation Day pardons for the high-profile business tycoons are aimed at propping up the sagging economy, hit hard by the outbreak of the Middle East respiratory syndrome, and a protracted slump in exports.
“I have decided to grant special pardons in order to help forge national reconciliation and revitalize the economy as well as to boost people’s spirits,” Park said in a Cabinet meeting on the day.
SK employees pass by the group headquarters in Seoul on Thursday, when its imprisoned chairman Chey Tae-won received a special pardon. Yonhap
The SK Group chairman was jailed in 2013 after receiving a four-year prison sentence for embezzling 46.5 billion won ($43.6 million) from two SK units.
Among the beneficiaries of the government’s decision were Hanwha Group vice chairman Kim Hyun-chung, and Hong Dong-wook, the chief of Yeochun NCC Co.
Other big-name businessmen, including Hanwha Group chairman Kim Seung-youn, former LIG Nex1 vice chairman Koo Bon-sang and former LIG E&C vice chairman Koo Bon-yeop, were excluded from the list of the special pardons.
Vowing to contribute to the government efforts to revive the economy, SK Group said in a statement, “the company is thankful to the government and the public.”
The business circles hailed the government decision made amid growing concerns over the sluggish economy.
“We hope the special pardons serve as a stepping-stone for the Korean economy to take a big leap forward and achieve the nation’s unity,” the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry -- a major business lobby -- said in a statement.
Some industry officials, however, expressed regrets over the toughened standards of presidential pardons for business leaders.
“The government should have been more generous in granting special pardons if it really wanted to boost the economy,” a market watcher said.
The official added that many conglomerates whose top executives are currently imprisoned suffer from a leadership vacuum as they have lost impetus to push new businesses forward.
The Park Geun-hye government vowed earlier this year that it would not imprudently pardon business leaders who commit economic crimes and strengthened the laws for the special pardons.
According to the revised rules, convicted businessmen should serve at least a third of their prison terms to be eligible for receiving special pardons.
By Kim Young-won(email@example.com