South Korea’s president pardoned more than 6,000 criminals on Thursday, among them the head of one of the country’s third largest business groups jailed for embezzlement, The Independent reports. President Park Geun-hye said the decision to pardon 6,527 people was intended to improve the economy, but it is expected to fan popular sentiment the ruling business elite are above the law.
Among those pardoned is Chey Tae-won, chairman of SK Group, one of South Korea’s leading conglomerates, who was sentenced to four years imprisonment for embezzling company funds. The government defended its decision to pardon Mr Chey, who remained SK Group’s chairman during his prison stint, and 13 other leading businessmen, as a means to revitalise the economy.
South Korea recently downgraded its prediction for growth from 3.8 per cent to 3.1 per cent, announcing a $20 billion fiscal stimulus package in the wake of the results. President Park’s decision is also expected to renew intense debate surrounding the influence held by chaebol – powerful, family-controlled business groups – in South Korea. It is the first time the president, elected in 2013, issued official pardons. It follows a 2013 speech in which she claimed she favoured limiting the power of presidential pardons.
The country remains reliant on chaebols’ ability to drive economic growth in the world’s 14 largest economy, with the four largest accounting for 40 per cent of the country’s stock option capitalisation. Recent efforts by the current government to nurture start-ups and smaller companies have not taken root, The Wall Street Journal also noted. President Park’s pardons coincide with the 70 anniversary of the end of World War Two and the Japanese occupation of the Korean peninsula.