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Planned presidential pardon sparks concerns of leniency on corporate crimes

[THE INVESTOR] President Park Geun-hye’s plans to issue special presidential pardons is sparking speculation that top executives of some of South Korea’s largest conglomerates may be freed.

While fueling hopes for some, the move is also raising concerns that Park may be following her predecessors in being lenient toward corporate crimes. 

Hanwha Group chairman Kim Seung-youn looks around Hanwha Q CELLS’facility. Kim is currently on a suspended sentence for dereliction of duty.
Hanwha Group chairman Kim Seung-youn looks around Hanwha Q CELLS’facility. Kim is currently on a suspended sentence for dereliction of duty.

On July 11, the president said that special presidential pardons will be granted to coincide with the Aug. 15 Liberation Day.

“(I) plan to issue pardons to (create) an opportunity for revival, and to channel the capabilities of the people,” Park said at a meeting with her chief aides.

The announcement came three days after the meeting on July 8 with the ruling Saenuri Party, at which floor leader Rep. Chung Jin-suk suggested that the president pardon “with scale” criminals from various walks of life.

The names that are being mentioned in connection with the pardons include CJ Group chairman Lee Jay-hyun, SK Group vice chairman Chey Jae-won, Hanwha Group chief Kim Seung-youn and LIG Nex1’s Koo Bon-sang.
SK Group chariman Chey Tae-won (left) and vice chairman Chey Jae-won. The chairman was pardoned in 2015, his brother, the vice chairman, remains in custody serving a 3 1/2-year term.
SK Group chariman Chey Tae-won (left) and vice chairman Chey Jae-won. The chairman was pardoned in 2015, his brother, the vice chairman, remains in custody serving a 3 1/2-year term.


With Park having adhered to her campaign pledge of limiting the use of presidential right to issue pardons regarding executives and major shareholders of large companies, it is widely considered unlikely that a large number of businesspeople will be included in this year’s pardon.

Park has issued special pardons on two occasions since taking office. The first was carried out in January 2014, and the second on Aug. 15 last year. Politicians and corporate figures were excluded from the first, and only 14 businesspeople were included in last year’s pardon. Of the 14, SK Group chairman Chey Tae-won was the only chief of a large conglomerate.

This year, however, maybe different, or so pundits say. 
CJ Group Lee Jay-hyun is surrounded by reporters outside the courthouse in 2015.
CJ Group Lee Jay-hyun is surrounded by reporters outside the courthouse in 2015.


In revealing her plans, the president mentioned economic difficulties saying “the lives of the people are weighed down,” and that the country needs a spark of hope.

The country’s labor market is still sluggish, while monthly exports continue a record-long downward spiral.

The news of CJ Group’s Lee reviewing plans to drop the reappeal emerging on the same day as the president’s pardon plans is thought to be a hint at his legal team’s strategy.

Lee is currently reappealing the corruption charges, for which he was given 2 1/2 years in prison. However, on grounds of deteriorating health, he is on parole for medical treatments.

According to reports citing unnamed CJ Group officials, the legal team is considering dropping the reappeal due to his health. He suffers from Charcot–Marie–Tooth disease, a hereditary disease that causes progressive loss of nerves and muscle tissue.

For Lee to be included in the pardon, the reappeal must be dropped. However, it would also mean that Lee returns to custody, which would be difficult considering his current condition.

As for SK Group’s younger Chey, and LIG’s Koo, hopes are rising on grounds that their terms are near completion.

Chey was sentenced to 3 1/2 years for embezzlement, while Koo was sentenced to four years for account fraud and irregularities surrounding his company’s corporate bonds. About four months remain in both Chey and Koo’s sentences.

By Choi He-suk (cheesuk@heraldcorp.com)
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