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South Korea pardons chaebol chiefs to help COVID-19 recovery
Published : Aug 12, 2022 - 13:53
Updated : Aug 12, 2022 - 20:13
Samsung heir Lee Jae-yong speaks to reporters outside Seoul central district court on Friday. (Yonhap)

Chaebol bosses -- most notably of Samsung and Lotte -- are being given special presidential pardons and being bailed out of jail in light of the economic crisis triggered by the pandemic.

The first round of special pardons by the Yoon Suk-yeol administration was issued in consideration of the “economic fallout from COVID-19 and stagnant recovery, as well as inflation that is associated with the hardships of many South Korean households,” according to the Ministry of Justice on Friday.

“The pardons are intended to allow the businesspeople to contribute to the economic recovery,” a senior Justice Ministry official told reporters.

As a result of the pardon Lee Jae-yong, the vice chairman of Samsung Electronics, whose jail sentence expired last month, will be relieved of restrictions for ex-offenders that barred him from running the company for five years. Lee was released on parole in August last year, serving just part of the 2 1/2 years he was sentenced for bribing the impeached former President Park Geun-hye.

Shin Dong-bin, the chairman of Lotte Group who is on a suspended jail sentence, also for bribing Park, will be cleared.

Following the announcement, the two chaebol billionaires have extended their thanks.

“I will work hard for the country’s economy,” Lee told reporters outside Seoul’s central district court. In a statement issued on Shin’s behalf, Lotte Group said it “offers sincere gratitude to the South Korean government and people” and “vows efforts for the recovery from the economic crisis.”

Also receiving pardons are Dongkuk Steel’s chairman Jang Se-ju and STX Group’s ex-chairman Kang Duk-soo.

Contrary to speculations, jailed political elites such as ex-President Lee Myung-bak and Kim Kyoung-soo, a close Moon Jae-in aide and formerly governor of South Gyeongsang Province, were not among the list of pardonees.

In a press conference held the same day, the minor Justice Party slammed the pardons as a “collapse of justice.” “The chaebol leaders were already given special treatments with paroles and suspensions,” the party said.

The controversial tradition of South Korean presidents pardoning convicted corporate and political elites goes back a long way. Earlier this year Moon used his final pardoning power to free his predecessor Park out of “concerns about her deteriorating health.”

By Kim Arin (arin@heraldcorp.com)
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