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[Editorial] Pardon favoritism

Park pardoned with election imminent; ‘godmother’ of Moon loyalists reinstated

Dec. 27, 2021 - 05:31 By Korea Herald
President Moon Jae-in has pardoned former President Park Geun-hye unexpectedly, and so far, it has left an unpleasant aftertaste.

Park, 69, will be freed from prison on Dec. 31, four years and nine months after being locked up in March 2017. She has been treated for chronic shoulder and lower back pain since she was imprisoned.

When the ruling party leader suggested early this year that Moon pardon Park, he refused, saying “now is not the time.”

A Cheong Wa Dae official said that the president seems to have considered her deteriorating health in deciding to pardon her. However, given that he pardoned her when just 75 days were left to the presidential election, it is hard to avoid the impression that it may have been politically motivated. To pardon Park is an issue that may embarrass Yoon Suk-yeol, presidential candidate of the opposition People Power Party, who led one of the special counsel teams that investigated and indicted Park.

Moon included former Prime Minister Han Myeong-sook in the list of pardon beneficiaries scheduled to be released on New Year’s Eve. Lee Seok-ki, a former lawmaker of the disbanded United Progressive Party, is to be released on parole.

The Supreme Court upheld Han’s two-year sentence to prison for receiving about 900 million won ($759,000) in what was a political slush fund. Evidence was indisputable and she served out her time. Nevertheless, the Moon administration persistently attempted to prove the innocence of Han, who is regarded by loyalists to Moon and former President Roh Moo-hyun as a “godmother” figure.

Despite the top court’s ruling to uphold her conviction, the Justice Ministry and the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office jointly inspected the team that had investigated Han’s case. The inspection focused on allegations that prosecutors had coerced perjury unfavorable to Han in the course of investigation. The allegations turned out to be groundless.

Han was ordered by the court to pay some 883 million won in restitution, but about 700 million won remains unpaid while she has pleaded her innocence.

Former lawmaker Lee’s conviction was upheld by the Supreme Court. He was sentenced to nine years in prison on rebellion charges for plotting to overthrow the government in the event that war broke out on the Korean Peninsula. He was chief of an underground revolutionary organization with a mission of upsetting rear area security and destroying major facilities if North Korea were to invade South Korea.

The United Progressive Party that he belonged to was broken up by the Constitutional Court in 2014.

He showed no signs of repentance and it was not until recently that he had requested a retrial. His release defeats the purpose of the parole system introduced to help model inmates adjust to society.

The Moon government also pardoned convicts who fought against governmental authority. They led illegal violent protests against the construction of a naval base on Jeju Island, the deployment of the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defense antimissile system and the installation of a power-transmission tower.

Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum said that those convicts prisoned for committing grave crimes were excluded from being pardoned. But it is obvious that Han, Lee and the violent protesters have defied the Constitution all along.

Ignoring and trying to destroy the rule of law is a serious crime.

They have sided with liberal leftist groups. Criticism that they were given clemency because they are on the same wavelength with the current regime is hard to refute. It is questionable if former President Park was included in the list of pardon beneficiaries to dilute negative opinions about Han’s reinstatement, Lee’s parole and the pardon of illegal protesters against state projects.

Moon emphasized national integration as a justification for the pardon. But he did not pardon former President Lee Myung-bak, 80, who was sentenced to 17 years in prison on charges of bribery and embezzlement. Ex-Presidents Park and Lee were imprisoned in the middle of Moon’s drive to eliminate past evils, and only Park was pardoned. It does not match up with national integration and also goes against the principle of equity.

It is hard to erase an impression that favoritism and political motives were at work behind the pardon.