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South Korea Pardons Tycoon for Olympic Bid

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.

Reader Comments

James Garcia

December 29, 2009 10:39 AM

Korea is still a third world country when it comes to politics. The pardoning of Kun Hee Lee so that he can actively participate in the Olympic Bid as the IOC member is a joke. It is fabricated by the brains of Samsung and Lee's administration that takes advantage of Korea's sometimes irrational nationalism.

It is quite simple: KUN HEE LEE is a criminal that was found guilty of tax evasion, bribery and embezzelment. He should be treated like any other criminal.


December 29, 2009 11:12 AM

It must not be seriuos! Is it!?

C. H. Ng

December 29, 2009 8:27 PM

No surprise here....! As in anywhere in this world, only the rich & powerful & highly connected people are most likely to get away scot free even if found guilty. And these are the people who can almost practically get away with murders..!!

C. H. Ng

December 29, 2009 10:24 PM

I hope BW will report more on other big cases which are happening commonly in other Asean countries as well, instead of always the four "big guns" which are China, Japan, India & South Korea.

How about reporting cases such as the 2 units of F-5E jet engines which just gone missing from RMAF (Royal Malaysia Air Force) or the billions lost in the construction of the free trade zone in Port Klang, Malaysia through unscrupulous dealings? I think they are interesting fodders for the readers to digest.


December 30, 2009 12:58 AM

To argue against Mr. Garcia's point of view, I would just like to say that it is not only Korea that pardons criminals. Lest we forget, America has a long history or doing such things. Let's not be haste in judging a country's actions so harshly. Perhaps you should rephrase your previous statement. Third World Politics? or rather standard politics?

C. H. Ng

December 30, 2009 2:51 AM


To pardon a convicted criminal is the prerogative rights of a country's leader and / or the monarchy BUT the judgement on how and where such decision is derived should be very clear cut & clean.

In the above cases, pardoning the corporate figures is one thing but engaging a convicted person's services to help to promote the country's bid for an international event stinks. It makes the pardoning issue even more debatable. It's just like in a scenario when the judge setting free (1) a poor & hungry jobless person who stole some buns to feed his family, and (2) a rich man's son who stole from a departmental store just for the sake of a thrill from stealing.

Of coz you can say the 2 cases are totally different from the Samsung's former boss's case but my question here is on the debatable pardoning issue. So just like from my 2 above examples given, who deserves the rights to be pardoned....(1) or (2)??


January 2, 2010 8:37 PM

Actually, given the sordid history of the Olympics, the pardon would appear to be a perfectly fitting symbol for the event...

Aimee Lee

January 5, 2010 2:59 AM

Maybe the economic of South Korea is good in Asia,I only know there are many beautiful girls there,tattoo kits,and now it improve its every sides,I think it should win.

C. H. Ng

January 12, 2010 12:19 AM

Just to prove my point that only the rich & powerful tend to get away scot-free, there is a latest news of the half brother of UAE's president being acquitted in court after previously confirmed he was the person shown in a videotaped vicious beating of an Afghan man. The sheik was also acquitted of all charges which included endangering a life, causing bodily harm & rape!

Talking about "all men are equal", are we really equal?? I would like to put it in a (oh, sorry) more vulgar way... it all depend on COMING OUT FROM A RIGHT HOLE AT A RIGHT TIME...!!

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