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Lee's pardons draw abuse of power claims

Outgoing president pardons 55, including close friends

Lee's pardons draw abuse of power claims
Outgoing President Lee Myung-bak at a cabinet meeting (courtesy of the Presidential Office)
Stephen Hong, Seoul

January 29, 2013

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Outgoing President Lee Myung-bak has approved pardons for 55 people including close associates, igniting allegations from the ruling and opposition parties, civic groups and even President-elect Park Geun-hye that he is abusing his power in the last days of his presidency.

Yoon Chang-joong, spokesman of Park’s presidential transition committee, called the pardons “very regrettable.” He said in a briefing on Tuesday that “Lee will face the nation’s criticism over the pardon of corrupt people.”

Included among those pardoned were Choi See-joong, former chairman of the Korea Communications Commission who is considered a mentor to Lee, and Chun Shin-il, Lee’s longtime friend and chairman of the Sejoong Namo Tour company.

Both were convicted on corruption charges for accepting bribes.

President-elect Park of Lee's ruling Saenuri Party had opposed the pardon plans when they were announced earlier this month, saying “especially pardoning those imprisoned for corruption is abusing power and against the will of the public.”

Park will be sworn in as president on February 25.

Jung Sung-ho, spokesperson of the main opposition Democratic United Party, also criticized the pardon’s, saying that “Lee will be sternly judged by history.”

The People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy, Korea’s largest civil society group, called the pardons “the worst of the worst” and said that Lee had cloaked his own self-interest with calls for what he has called “national unity.”

Jang Jeong-uk, chief coordinator of the group, accused Lee of trying to dilute criticism of the controversial pardons for corrupt former colleagues by including some that would be widely popular, including five residents from the Yongsan development site.

Six people from Yongsan were imprisoned in 2009 following clashes with police and protesters that left six dead.

Presidential spokesman Park Jeong-ha told reporters on Tuesday in Seoul that Lee had rejected any claims of abuse of power during a cabinet meeting.

“I am not abusing the pardons process because they were done by due process of law,” Lee said at the meeting, adding that they had been reviewed by a screening committee.

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