updated 03:45 pm EST, Tue December 29, 2009
South Korea's pardon of ex-Samsung CEO draws flak
In a follow-up to a story that dates back to 2008, the South Korean government on Tuesday planned to pardon the former chairman of Samsung Group, Lee Kun-hee, four months after his conviction on tax-evasion charges. According to a Tuesday WSJ report (subscription required), the executive is meant to help South Korea in its bid to host the 2018 Winter Olympics. Samsung released a statement saying it is pleased Lee Kun-hee has been granted this pardon.
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak cited the contributions the CEO could offer to South Korea's efforts to draw the Winter Olympics in 2018 to the city of Pyeongchang. "I've decided this pardon for national interests," he said after a Tuesday cabinet meeting at which the pardon was considered.
The 67-year-old was indicted on charges that he caused financial damages to Samsung by attempting to illegally give his 41-year-old son, Jay Y. Lee, management control of the company. Earlier in December, the younger Lee became the CEO of Samsung Electronics. While Lee senior was cleared of these charges, he was found guilty of breach-of-trust and tax evasion in August, which carried a suspended prison sentence. He was accused of causing damage to a Samsung company by issuing a certain type of bond at below-market rates. While he denied liability in court, he apologized to the public for the turmoil caused by the trial.
The attempt to pardon Lee has drawn criticism from the opposition and governance groups that are calling it an example of how South Korea gives unfair preferential treatment to its senior business executives. Seoul-based activist group People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy is saying the company and government are "disregarding the rule of law."
"Granting a chaebol [conglomerate] chairman a pardon just to host an Olympics will make South Korea a laughingstock in the international community," minor opposition Liberty Forward party said in a statement.
In August, Mr. Lee was sentenced to three years in prison and fined the equivalent of $88.7 million, though he wouldn't have to serve the prison sentence if he stayed out of trouble for five years.