Published : 2013-01-10 18:59
Updated : 2013-01-10 18:59
President Lee Myung-bak is moving to issue a special pardon before his term expires on Feb. 24. A presidential spokesman has confirmed the rumors that Lee is considering exercising his right to a pardon before leaving office.
The spokesman tried to justify Lee’s move by saying that there have been a lot of calls for executive clemency from religious, business and political circles.
Yet he said nothing has been decided regarding the timing and beneficiaries of the proposed pardon. These details will be taken care of by the Ministry of Justice. As usual, Lee is expected to issue a pardon around Lunar New Year, which falls on Feb. 10 this year.
On Monday, Yim Tae-hee, Lee’s former chief of staff, suggested the possibility of a special pardon. He was quoted as saying during a radio talk show, “In the past, when a new king came to the throne, the prison gate was opened.”
Describing a presidential pardon as a grand gesture of national reconciliation, Yim said there were some positive aspects to it.
In Korea, it has become a tradition for an outgoing president to grant a special pardon toward the end of his term. Lee’s predecessors, including Roh Moo-hyun, Kim Dae-jung and Kim Young-sam, all did it.
So there is nothing unusual about Lee’s issuing of a pardon before leaving office. Furthermore, if the pardon is granted around Feb. 10 as expected, it could be justified as a move to celebrate the inauguration of the new government.
Granting pardons is a presidential power set out in the Constitution. As such, there is no disputing its legitimacy. Yet the problem with special pardons is that they can make a mockery of the rule of law.
Presidential pardons are intended for people who have atoned for their crimes or were unjustly or unfairly accused. But former presidents tended to wield this power to let out their allies, relatives or friends who had been convicted on corruption and other charges.
As criticism for the abuse of presidential pardons mounted, the government established the Pardon Reviewing Board in 2007. But this screening commission has degenerated into a rubber-stamp body.
Lee is also suspected of trying to use his right to pardon to release his political allies, including his elder brother, Lee Sang-deuk, from prison.
The elder Lee is currently standing trial, with a verdict expected late this month. Even if convicted, he is unlikely to appeal the sentence as he would want his name to be put on the pardon list. Under the law, only convicts whose punishment has been finalized are eligible for a pardon.
Some of Lee’s buddies who helped him become president were found to be guilty of corruption. They include Choi See-choong, the president’s political mentor and communications czar who was sentenced to two years and six months in prison. But he did not appeal the verdict, fueling suspicion that he was expecting a pardon.
Others who are likely to be pardoned this time include Chun Shin-il, one of the president’s longtime buddies and chairman of Sejoong Namo Tour, and Kim Jae-hong, a cousin of first lady Kim Yoon-ok and former chairman of the board of trustees of KT&G.
If Lee exercises his presidential power to expunge the criminal records of his brother and friends, he would face public outcry. If he wants to grant a pardon to boost the spirit of national reconciliation, he should refrain from including his allies in the pardon list.
Instead, he could release the tenants in Yongsan who were jailed for protesting against the districts’ redevelopment project in 2009. Civic and religious groups have been requesting clemency for these people.