President Lee Myung-bak is considering granting a special pardon, his spokesperson said Wednesday, fueling speculations that the outgoing leader may use his power of amnesty to get his brother and close associates out of jail.
“There have been many requests from various groups through formal and informal channels for a presidential pardon. (The president) is considering them,” presidential spokesperson Park Jeong-ha told reporters at the Presidential Office of Cheong Wa Dae.
“Nothing has been decided though, including its timing or beneficiaries.”
Another Cheong Wa Dae official said that the amnesty was being considered on the ground of boosting national unity and may benefit some politicians.
If confirmed, it would be Lee’s seventh and last pardon, as his term expires on Feb. 24. Many Korean presidents have issued pardons before leaving office, including Roh Moo-hyun, Kim Dae-jung and Kim Young-sam.
Political observers see Lee’s pardon highly likely and expect it to be around the Lunar New Year, which falls on Feb. 10 this year, given such pardons usually took place on special occasions in the past.
Speculation of a special pardon have been rife in the political circles. All eyes are now on whether the president will risk fuelling public anger to salvage his elder brother, Lee Sang-deuk, and his longtime friends, all behind bars for corruption, involving bribery and influence peddling.
The elder Lee is currently standing trial under arrest, accused of taking bribes from suspended savings banks in return for business favors. A verdict is expected late this month or early next month. If convicted, he must give up his right for appeal to become an eligible candidate of a pardon, as did some of Lee’s close friends recently.
Choi See-choong, the president’s political mentor who served as the chief of the Korea Communications Commission from 2008 to January 2012, was sentenced to two years and six months in prison, but did not appeal. He was also accused of taking bribes.
Others who have taken similar steps, fueling the speculation of a special pardon, include Chun Shin-il, the president’s longtime friend and chairman of Sejoong Namo Tour, and Kim Jae-hong, the cousin of first lady Kim Yoon-ok. Both were accused of receiving kickbacks in return for influence peddling.
By Lee Sun-young (firstname.lastname@example.org