President Lee Myung-bak on Tuesday defied opposition from all sides of the political spectrum by pardoning close aides who had been convicted of taking bribes. The Cabinet approved the last special amnesty of his term for 55 people including politicians and business executives.
Among the beneficiaries are former National Assembly speaker Park Hee-tae and Choi See-joong, the ex-chairman of the Korea Communications Commission. Both are close confidants of the president. Choi is currently serving a two-and-a-half-year sentence for receiving W600 million (US$1=W1,085) in bribes to authorize business deals involving a major construction project. He will be sprung on Thursday.
Lee claimed in the Cabinet meeting that he tried to ensure the pardons conformed to the law and was deliberated by a review committee with several civilian members. "This is not an abuse of power," he added. "It was carried out according to law and proper procedures."
But a spokesman for president-elect Park Geun-hye expressed "huge concern" that the pardoned individuals included officials convicted of corruption and warned that Lee would not be able to escape criticism for ignoring public sentiment.