n a major turn of event in South Korean economic-political scene, Samsung heir Lee Jae-yong was granted special presidential pardon on Friday after being convicted of bribery.
The vice chairman of the global tech giant is the latest top executive to receive leniency after being paroled last year.
Lee was convicted of bribery and embezzlement in 2017.
One of South Korea’s most powerful white collar criminals, the 54-year-old was twice imprisoned for bribing a former president.
South Korea’s government justified the move, saying the de-facto leader of the country’s biggest company was needed back at the helm to spearhead economic recovery post-pandemic, the BBC reported.
This marks another swing in a struggle over how the country is run that has raged since mass protests took over Seoul six years ago and ousted a president from office.
Lee’s crimes were directly tied up in the corruption scandal that led to the imprisonment of former president Park Geun-Hye, in office from 2013-2017.
The “Crown Prince of Samsung” – as he was dubbed by protesters – paid $8 million in bribes to President Park and her associate to secure support for a merger opposed by shareholders that would shore up his control of his family’s empire.
President Yoon Suk-yeol granted his first special pardons to the Samsung heir, Lotte Group Chairman Shin Dong-bin and 1,691 others on the occasion of next week’s Liberation Day anniversary, the government said Friday.
The government announced the pardons to be effective from Liberation Day on Monday.
Lee was sentenced to two and half years in prison in the bribery case and released on parole in August last year. His prison term officially ended July 29, but he still needs a pardon to have all his rights reinstated.
Lotte Group Chairman Shin was sentenced to a suspended same prison term in October 2018 in a similar bribery case involving Park.
A widely expected pardon for 81-year-old former President Lee Myung-bak was ruled out at the last minute as Yoon’s approval rating has fallen to unusually low levels and pardoning the unpopular former president could worsen his standing.
“Key business people were included in the pardons in consideration of their roles in leading national growth through technology investment and job creation, given that the country badly needs to overcome an economic crisis,” Yonhap quoted a government official as saying.
Speaking at the Cabinet meeting, President Yoon expressed hope that his special Liberation Day pardons would help stabilize people’s livelihoods and pull the nation out of its economic crisis.
In South Korea, presidents usually grant special pardons in commemoration of major national holidays, with leaders of top conglomerates, known as chaebol, often becoming beneficiaries on the grounds that their return to management will help boost the domestic economy.