President Moon Jae-in speaks during a virtual meeting with 50 representatives from political and business communities as well as members of the public at Cheong Wa Dae in Seoul on Thursday. (Yonhap)
Cheong Wa Dae on Thursday flatly denied a report that the presidential office was considering ways to grant pardons to Park Geun-hye and Lee Myung-bak, the two former presidents jailed for abuses of power and corruption offenses.
Earlier in the day, the Chosun Ilbo reported that Cheong Wa Dae was considering pardoning Park first while discussing other options like a suspension of prison sentence for Lee, citing unnamed sources from the ruling bloc.
Pardons can only be granted by the president, but suspensions of prison time can be decided by the Ministry of Justice.
“Unlike Park, who has served almost four years in prison for illegally using her power in state affairs, Lee was briefly released on bail and his charges are more related to his personal irregularities,” a source was quoted as saying on the discrepancies in the alleged approaches to the two presidents.
The report added that President Moon Jae-in was expected to make his final decision after the Supreme Court’s ruling on Park’s case set for Jan. 14.
The presidential office, however, denied the report, saying the issue has never been discussed.
“Not to mention the separate ways, the whole issue of pardons has never been discussed,” a Cheong Wa Dae official said, declining to elaborate.
The report comes after a weeklong political roller coaster over a suggestion to consider pardons for the two former conservative presidents.
The issue surfaced Jan. 1 after ruling Democratic Party of Korea Floor Leader Rep. Lee Nak-yon, one of the key presidential hopefuls, publicly broached his intention to ask Moon to pardon his immediate predecessors.
The idea immediately stirred controversy.
After an emergency meeting, the ruling party expressed its clear opposition, saying, “Public consensus and the presidents’ sincere remorse should precede to start related discussions.”
Floor Leader Lee also stepped back saying he would wait for Park’s final ruling, adding he didn’t discuss the issue with Moon directly.
People Power Party leader Kim Chong-in joins a New Year’s meeting with President Moon Jae-in through a video link at the National Assembly in Seoul on Thursday. (Yonhap)
The opposition parties’ reactions were mixed, even within the main opposition People Power Party. In their first meeting with new presidential chief of staff Yoo Young-min on Wednesday, the party’s interim leader Kim Chong-in distanced himself from the issue, saying, “It is the sole authority of the president.”
But Rep. Joo Ho-young, the floor leader, welcomed the discussions, saying “I’m asking to make a conclusion in consideration of national unity.”
Moon, who has remained silent over the presidential pardons, also stressed national unity at a New Year’s greeting event Thursday, fueling speculation about how he will use his clemency power in his final year in office.
“The new year is a year of unity. Due to the coronavirus, we have realized that we are more connected to one another than before,” he said during the livestreamed meeting with 50 representatives from political and business communities as well as some members of the public.
“We can move on to a more united society when we respect and praise what we have accomplished together and seek a new big leap.”
A Cheong Wa Dae official, however, rebutted any overinterpretation, saying, “Isn’t it very natural for a South Korean president to highlight ‘unity’ in his New Year’s message? More importantly, he mentioned the word to stress people’s efforts in fighting the coronavirus throughout his speech.”
The annual event was held online for the first time this year due to the toughened social distancing rules amid a wave of COVID-19 infections, inviting participants through a video link. The meeting was also joined by Democratic Party leader Lee and People Power Party leader Kim, but neither commented on the issue of pardons.
During the meeting, Moon also pledged to overcome the coronavirus crisis as soon as possible and to beef up efforts to relieve financial concerns of more vulnerable members of society. He highlighted the Korean New Deal, carbon neutrality and denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula as key items on the agenda this year.
By Lee Ji-yoon (firstname.lastname@example.org