South Korea pardons ex-president Lee in prison

Imprisoned former South Korean President Lee Myung-bak received a presidential pardon on Tuesday, reducing his 17-year sentence on corruption charges, the justice minister said.

Lee was on a list of more than 1,300 people who received special pardons “from the perspective of broad national unity through reconciliation, tolerance and consideration,” Han Dong-hoon told reporters after a meeting of the Cabinet with President Yoon Suk-yeol.

Lee, 81, who was granted a temporary release from prison in June because of his age and failing health, is serving 17 years for bribery and embezzlement.

It was effectively a life sentence, as he was not due to be released until 2036, when he would be 95 years old.

The former Hyundai CEO-turned-president was indicted on 16 criminal charges in 2018 and sentenced in 2020.

He was found guilty of creating tens of millions of dollars in hedge funds and accepting bribes from Samsung Electronics in exchange for a presidential pardon for its late chairman Lee Kun-hee, who was jailed for tax evasion .

A self-made man who was appointed head of a major construction company at age 35 before entering politics, Lee served as chairman from 2008 to 2013.

He guided the country through the global financial crisis and won its bid for the 2018 Winter Olympics, but was criticized by opponents for undermining the nation’s democratic standards and freedoms of expression.

The pardons, effective at midnight Wednesday, are the second time Yoon has exercised his clemency power since taking office in May.

In August, Samsung Electronics Chief Executive Lee Jae-yong was among the beneficiaries of Yoon’s first pardons.

South Korean presidents have often ended up in prison after their time in power, usually after their political rivals have moved into the presidential Blue House.

Chun Doo-hwan and Roh Tae-woo, former army generals who served prison terms in the 1990s for corruption and treason after leaving office, received presidential pardons after serving about two years.

Former President Roh Moo-hyun committed suicide in 2009 after being questioned over graft allegations involving his family.

Lee’s conservative successor, Park Geun-hye, was pardoned last year while serving 20 years in prison for bribery and abuse of power after being ousted in 2017 in a corruption scandal that sparked mass street protests.

© 2022 AFP

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