President Yoon pardons 12 business tycoons to spur ‘economic recovery’

Including the New Year’s special pardon earlier this year, President Yoon has now carried out three rounds of presidential pardons.

Lee Jung-Youn

Lee Jung-Youn

The Korea Herald


Some of those who benefitted from Liberation Day special pardons, from left: Honorary chairman of Kumho Petrochemical Group Park Chan-koo, Booyoung Group founder Lee Joong-keun, Chong Kun Dang Chairman Rhee Jang-han, Taekwang Group's former Chairman Lee Ho-jin and Kim Tae-woo, former head of the Gangseo-gu Office. PHOTO: YONHAP/THE KOREA HERALD

August 15, 2023

SEOUL – President Yoon Suk Yeol carried out special presidential pardons on Monday for 2,176 individuals, including 12 prominent business tycoons, ahead of the Liberation Day holiday that falls on Aug. 15, on the premise of reviving the economy.

The Ministry of Justice announced the special presidential pardons for recipients including businesspersons from smaller enterprises, business tycoons, politicians, corporate executives and prisoners who committed minor offenses out of economic distress.

A total of 811,978 people subject to various administrative sanctions, including suspension of a licenses for driving, cargo transportation and fishing, were also exempted, while 821 exemplary prisoners were released on parole.

Those to be pardoned include Kim Tae-woo, former head of the Gangseo-gu Office in Seoul, who worked for the Cheong Wa Dae special inspection team under the Moon Jae-in administration, and returned as a prosecution investigator to expose corruption allegations concerning the Moon government’s ministers.

Kim was included in the pardon list despite being convicted by the Supreme Court only three months ago on charges of leaking official secrets. President Yoon reportedly had a strong will to pardon Kim on the belief that he was a whistle-blower against corruption.

Three former high-ranking government officials, including Kang Man-soo, a former economy and finance minister of the conservative Lee Myung-bak administration, were pardoned and freed from restrictions on their activities.

Kang was sentenced to five years and two months in prison in May 2018 for abuse of power after using his influence to have an acquaintance’s company selected for a national project. Kang was previously released from prison on parole under a Liberation Day pardon in August 2021, but faced a ban on his employment until 2026, which this year’s pardon will now lift.

Moreover, 12 business tycoons including Booyoung Group founder Lee Joong-keun, honorary chairman of Kumho Petrochemical Group Park Chan-koo and Chong Kun Dang Chairman Rhee Jang-han were named as pardon beneficiaries.

Booyoung Group founder Lee was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison in August 2020 on charges of embezzlement and breach of trust amounting to tens of billions of won, and was paroled on Liberation Day the following year. Although his prison term has ended, Lee was under employment restrictions for five years according to the Act on the Aggravated Punishment of Specific Economic Crimes. As the Liberation Day pardon lifts the restriction, Lee will be able to participate in company management.

Park, honorary chairman of Kumho Petrochemical Group, who was sentenced to three years in prison and five years of probation in December 2018 on charges of breach of trust of more than 13 billion won ($9.7 million), was also included on the pardon list.

Chong Kun Dang Chairman Rhee, who was sentenced to six months in prison and two years of probation in November 2019 for habitually abusing his power over personal drivers, and the former chairman of Dong-A Socio Holdings, Kang Jung-seok, who was released in September 2020 after 2 1/2 years in prison for embezzlement of company funds and providing rebates to hospitals and clinics, were both pardoned.

Meanwhile, figures related to the manipulation of state affairs in the former Park Geun-hye government including former senior presidential secretary for economic affairs Ahn Jong-beom, former Samsung Electronics Executive Choi Gee-sung and Chang Choong-ki, former deputy chief of the office, were excluded from the pardon list.

“The presidential pardons focused on reviving the economy in light of the serious economic difficulties faced by a continued economic slump and inflation,” Justice Minister Han Dong-hoon said in a briefing Monday.

Han added that people punished due to minor violations of quarantine rules were also included in the pardon list to achieve a complete recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Older and young offenders alike who suffered from economic difficulties were also pardoned.

Regarding the pardoning of major business figures, Han said the decision was made to revive the economy, adding that was Korean society’s top priority.

Economic organizations welcomed the presidential pardons, which several businesspersons, stressing their will to revive the economy.

“We welcome the pardon and reinstatement of major businessmen through the special pardon for Liberation Day. We will take it as a sign to boost our struggling economy and further encouragement on us to play an active role as entrepreneurs for the future,” said the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry in a statement on Monday.

The Korea Enterprises Federation said it welcomed the president’s decision to grant special pardons that provide business figures “the opportunity to return to the management front and devote themselves to the development of the national economy.”

The special pardons take effect from the beginning of Tuesday, the 78th Liberation Day that marks the end of 36 years of Japanese colonial rule.

The special pardons for Liberation Day are the second since Yoon took office. Including the New Year’s special pardon earlier this year, Yoon has now carried out three rounds of presidential pardons. On Liberation Day last year, Yoon also pardoned several business tycoons, including Samsung Chairman Lee Jae-yong. He pardoned former President Lee Myung-bak in the New Year’s pardons.

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