Posted by: Ihlwan Moon on December 29, 2009
It appears South Korean President Lee Myung Bak believes the ends justify the means. On Dec. 29, Lee granted amnesty for Samsung Electronics former chairman Lee Kun Hee who was given a suspended three-year jail sentence for tax evasion only four months ago. The reason: the former chairman of the country’s largest company and the son of its founder is the best person to promote Korea’s bid to host the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Sure, every country wants to win the right to host such a prestigious event as the Games. And as Korea’s Justice Ministry points out, tycoon Lee is the only non-athlete member of the International Olympic Committee representing the country in its campaign for the bid. The Seoul government stressed that the special pardon was aimed at furthering Korea’s national interest.
The amnesty, however, drew criticism from civic groups. The Solidarity for Economic Reform, an independent policy think-tank monitoring Korea’s chaebol, or family-controlled conglomerates, says the “unfair” decision goes against the rule of law and deepens mistrust of the Lee Myung Bak government’s pledge to put a more legally-based system in place in the country.
Last year, President Lee also pardoned Hyundai Motor Chairman Chung Mong Koo, SK Energy Chairman Chey Tae Won, and 72 other white-collar criminals on grounds that amnesties of businessmen could increase corporate investment and create jobs in the face of the then global recession. Chung was convicted of embezzlement and breach of trust, while Chey was convicted of fraud. At the time Lee promised to refrain from pardoning more businessmen during the remainder of his five-year term ending in February 2013.
Hosting the Winter Olympic Games will certainly help Korea improve its national reputation as well as that of its corporate brands. South Korea, twice unsuccessful in bidding for the Winter Olympics, wants now to host the 2018 event in the mountain resort of Pyeongchang. Yet if fair competition is a valued Olympic spirit, pardoning convicted criminals probably isn’t the right way to vie for the Winter Games.