President Lee Myung-bak is expected to go ahead with issuing his last special pardon this week despite open opposition from his successor, President-elect Park Geun-hye.
“The justice ministry has recently completed its review of a special pardon proposal and the issue is likely to be tabled at a Cabinet meeting scheduled for Tuesday,” a senior Cheong Wa Dae official said Sunday.
“What is left is a final decision by President Lee.”
Over the weekend, Park’s transition committee expressed concern over Lee’s reported amnesty plans, saying that the practice of issuing special pardons at the end of one’s presidential tenure should be eradicated.
“There is a need to break the chain of the practice of issuing special pardons at the end of (a president’s) term,” committee spokesman Yoon Chang-jung told a news briefing. “In particular, pardons for those implicated in corruption and other irregularities will anger the public, and it is hoped that such pardons will not be carried out.”
Cheong Wa Dae refuted the transition team’s opposition, saying the issuance of pardons was at the incumbent president’s discretion.
“The government has proceeded with the amnesty in accordance with the law and principles,” a high-rank Cheong Wa Dae official said.
Special pardons by the president have often taken place upon major holidays such as Liberation Day and the Lunar New Year’s Day. Past presidents have also often resorted to wielding their last-minute authority by granting amnesty right before they stepped down from office.
Lee’s anticipated list of pardons is likely to include about 50, mainly of those convicted of small-scale economic crimes.
More noteworthy members would be any of Lee’s close associates, such as former Korea Communications Commission chief Choi See-joong and businessman Chun Shin-il, who has been serving time for bribery since last year.
Some reports also suggest that former politicians Hong Sa-duck and Suh Chung-won, both ruling party members convicted of having received illegal political funds, may benefit from the pardon.
Lee’s elder brother Lee Sang-deuk, who was sentenced to two years in prison and a fine of 750 million won last Thursday for receiving kickbacks, will not be subject to the amnesty as he appealed the sentence the following day.
Only those whose sentences are finalized can be eligible for a pardon on the “model” prisoners.
Political parties, meanwhile, joined the transition committee’s side in denouncing the anticipated amnesty.
“The transition team’s stance toward special pardons shows that President-elect Park Geun-hye identifies with the views of the public and the opposition,” Democratic United Party spokesman Park Yong-jin said, arguing that Lee should not issue pardons for his convicted relatives and confidants at the end of his term.
The ruling Saenuri Party also supported the transition team’s stance, adding that South Koreans are against the long-running practice of pardoning corrupt confidants.
“Although issuing a special pardon is the president’s legal right, it should not be abused and should take the public sentiment into consideration,” said Lee Sang-il, the party spokesman.
Lee has so far issued presidential pardons six times since taking office in early 2008, compared with eight by his predecessors Roh Moo-hyun and Kim Dae-jung. Former President Kim Young-sam issued amnesties nine times.
By Lee Joo-hee and news reports (firstname.lastname@example.org