The South Korean government said on Thursday it would pardon 14 businessmen including SK chairman Chey Tae-won to mark the National Liberation Day. While the decision was hailed by the business circle, it is criticized by the opposition party and some civic groups on the ground that the president broke her early pledge.
The president said on Thursday the special pardon was carried out in a bid to help people who committed crime to make a living and it also included some businessmen in the areas of construction and software to boost the economy and create new jobs.
SK chairman Chey Tae-won, who was sentenced to four years, for embezzling tens of billions of won of the company’s funds, was released from the prison on Friday. He was in prison for two years and six months.
Chey told reporters in front of the prison that, "I am sorry to worry the public. We will do our best to become the company loved by the public."
He also added that "We will ramp up efforts to contribute to the national economic development and social development."
Chey gave up his board executive positions last March together with his younger brother Chey Jae-won. He is not expected to take that positions in near future to have time for self-restraint and self-reflection.
It is also prospected that he would focus on shifting SK Group's governance structure. The group finished the shift of holding company by merging SK and SK C&C in June.
Kim Seung-yeon, chairman of Hanhwa Group, who was sentenced to four years for dereliction of duty – costing hundreds of billions of won, was excluded from the special pardon.
Regarding the exclusion, the group said, "We are sorry for that," but adding that "Although we have limitations in normal management activities in effect (due to the absence of the chief), we will do our best to contribute to the national economic development and job creation through continuous investment."
While the decision was hailed by the business circle, it is criticized by the opposition party and the public on the ground that the president broke her pledge.
Local economic organization Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry said on the same day that "We are hoping that the special pardon may boost the grand integration of the public through another leap forward of the economy."
The Federation of Korean Industries, which consists of Korea's major conglomerates, also hailed the pardon, saying that, "We will interpret it as the government's willingness to boost the economy."
"We will do our best to recover the economy by focusing on expanding investment and job creation," it added.
Despite the big welcome by the business sector, it was criticized by the opposition party and some civic groups.
The main opposition party New Politics Alliance for Democracy said, "It is embarrassing to hear that the government pardoned businessmen on the ground of boosting the economy."
Yoo Eun-hye, spokesperson of the party said in a briefing session that, "It significantly conflicts with her pledge," adding that, "The president had pledged that she would severely restrict pardon for grave crimes of controlling shareholders."
She also said, "The pardon is against fair market order and transparency," pointing to the pardon which includes economic criminals who were arrested on charges of embezzlement and malpractice.
Citizens' Coalition for Economic Justice also said, "It is regretful to hear that the pardon for 14 businessmen include people who severely damaged economic order. There is no objective proof that the pardon on the ground of boosting the economy actually worked.