South Korea’s jailed ex-president Lee gets presidential pardon

South Korean President Yoon Seok-yeok issues pardons for more than 1,300 people in bid for ‘national unity.’

Lee Myung-bak
South Korea’s former president Lee Myung-bak has received a presidential pardon after being convicted of corruption charges [File: Kim Hong-Ji/pool via Reuters]

South Korea’s former President Lee Myung-bak has received a presidential pardon, cutting short his 17-year prison sentence for corruption.

South Korean President Yoon Seok-yeol issued the pardon for Lee on Tuesday as part of mass pardons that are common in the East Asian country around national holidays.

South Korean Justice Minister Han Dong-hoon told reporters that Yoon, a former chief prosecutor, had issued pardons for more than 1,300 people to foster “national unity through reconciliation, tolerance and consideration”.

Yoon had earlier this year expressed reservations about Lee staying in prison for the rest of his sentence, which would have kept him behind bars into his 90s.

Other high-profile figures included in the pardons include Kim Kyoung-soo, a former provincial governor, and Choi Kyoung-hwan, a former finance minister.

Lee, who served as president between 2008 and 2013, was convicted of bribery and embezzlement in 2018.

Lee, a former chief executive of Hyundai Engineering and Construction who entered policies on the back of his business success, denied the charges against him, including that he had accepted bribes from big firms including Samsung and had embezzled funds at one of his companies.

South Korea’s Supreme Court upheld a 17-year sentence for Lee in October 2020, sending him back to prison after a lower court had granted his release on bail.

In June, Lee, aged 81, was granted temporary release after prosecutors said the former president’s health had deteriorated significantly.

While in office, Lee led South Korea out of the global financial crisis with the economy relatively unscathed but faced serious tensions with North Korea and criticism for suppressing critics.

Since South Korea’s democratisation in 1987, all but one of the country’s elected former presidents have been convicted of white-collar crimes or seen an immediate family member convicted.

Last December, former President Park Geun-hye received a presidential pardon from her successor Moon Jae-in after being sentenced to more than 20 years in prison for charges including bribery and abuse of power.

In August, Yoon announced his first round of pardons since taking office in May to mark the country’s liberation day. The list included some of South Korea’s most prominent businessmen, including Samsung chairman Lee Jae-yong and former STX Group chairman Kang Duk-soo.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies