By Stephen Hong
President Lee Myung-bak may pardon more corrupt businessmen during the last few days of his presidency, said a spokesman, prompting a wave of criticism from political opponents and the media.
Presidential spokesman Park Jeong-ha told reporters yesterday in Seoul that Lee had received “many requests from various groups calling for a presidential pardon.”
But “nothing has been decided yet,” he added.
Media reports have suggested the president’s elder brother Lee Sang-deuk, former speaker of the lower house, could be top of the list to be freed before South Korea’s first female president, Park Geun-hye, takes office.
He is currently in prison awaiting trial over alleged bribe-taking from banks in return for business favors.
Choi Si-joong, former chairman of the Korea Communications Commission, is seen as another strong candidate for early release from prison after he was convicted of taking kickbacks. Choi is considered Lee’s mentor.
Presidential pardons often include large numbers of minor offenders, including petty thieves. But Lee has also released notorious tycoons in the past in the name of what he has termed “national unity.”
His presidency has been heavily criticized in recent years following a string of presidential pardons for some of South Korea’s most powerful tycoons including Samsung’s Lee Kun-hee.
Media coverage has generally been scathing of the prospect of further amnesties, even in the case of newspapers and television stations which back Lee and Park’s ruling Saenuri Party.
In an editorial published today, the Korean-language daily Chosun Ilbo urged Park to oppose any efforts by Lee to issue further pardons “as the country needs to see corrupt high figures pay fully for their crimes.”
Another newspaper, Dong-A Ilbo, said a pardon for the president’s brother would spark disunity in society.
The largest civic group in the country, the People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy, has described the possibility of further amnesties for corrupt tycoons as “shameful.”
“The people who really need the pardon are the weak and oppressed,” said the organization’s chief coordinator Jang Jeong-uk.
The ruling Saenuri Party’s leadership said “the right to grant pardon belongs to the president, but it should be wielded corresponding with public opinion.”