Former Samsung Group Chairman
By Na Jeong-ju
President Lee Myung-bak will give a special pardon to former Samsung Group Chairman Lee Kun-hee, Thursday, heeding calls from business associations that the country needs him to win the rights to host the 2018 Winter Olympics, Cheong Wa Dae said Tuesday.
"President Lee decided to pardon the former chairman in view of the national interest during a Cabinet meeting early Tuesday," presidential spokeswoman Kim Eun-hye said.
Lee is the only businessman to get a special pardon among the 78 convicted CEOs recommended for them by business associations, including the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Federation of Korean Industries.
Spokeswoman Kim made it clear that the pardon has a purpose, unlike those of the past. President Lee made the decision as he wants the Samsung owner to give hope to Gangwon residents, who have been frustrated by two past unsuccessful bids for the Winter Olympics.
The presidential office also said that despite the pardon, the government will get tough with officials and CEOs who commit crimes during President Lee's term.
Lee expects the tycoon to make a big contribution to promoting the national interest throughout the global sports world and to help the nation sharpen its economic competitiveness.
The decision drew mixed responses from political parties.
The main opposition Democratic Party (DP) called President Lee a leader for only the wealthy, saying he abused his power and ignored the rule of law.
"The President has repeatedly said he will strengthen the rule of law, but the special amnesty for the convicted man shows he demands tough standards only for the have-nots," DP spokesman Rep. Noh Young-min said.
The governing Grand National Party said the pardon doesn't mean that society has forgiven him, but was an important step forward for a successful bid for the Olympics.
The 67-year-old Lee voluntarily suspended his membership on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) following his conviction in 2008 for his involvement in tax evasion and breach of trust.
He was given a three-year prison term suspended for five years and fined 110 billion won ($95 million).
The country has only one active IOC member ― former taekwondo star Moon Dae-sung.
The bidding committee for the 2018 Olympics, co-chaired by Hanjin Group Chairman Cho Yang-ho and Governor Kim Jin-sun of Gangwon Province, recently asked President Lee to pardon the former chairman to ensure a successful bid.
Major business associations have also called for his reinstatement as an IOC member.
Last year, the CEO-turned-President granted amnesty to several convicted tycoons, including Hyundai Motor Chairman Chung Mong-koo, SK Energy Chairman Chey Tae-won and Hanwha Group Chairman Kim Seung-youn, drawing criticism that he was lenient on crimes committed by corporate giants.
"Lee will pardon only the former Samsung chairman this time," spokesman Kim said.
In September, South Korea submitted an official bid to the IOC for the eastern resort city of PyeongChang to host the 2018 Olympics. It is PyeongChang's third bid after losing to Vancouver of Canada in 2010 and Sochi of Russia in 2014.
Germany's Munich and France's Annecy have also submitted bids. A vote to name the host city will take place in July 2011 at the IOC's General Assembly to be held in Durban, South Africa.
Lee's reinstatement will pave the way for him to recover his suspended IOC membership. But it is still unclear whether IOC will allow Lee to resume his work as an IOC member.