South Korea’s outgoing president, Lee Myung-bak, has granted special pardons to 55 convicts, including political allies and close associates. The move has brought accusations that he is abusing his power in his last days in office.
Those pardoned on Tuesday included 14 businessmen and 19 politicians and public officials, including several of the president’s former close colleagues who had been convicted of corruption, reports the Financial Times. It was the seventh round of presidential pardons since Lee assumed office.
Among them was Lee’s longtime confidante and former minister Choi See-Joong as well as businessman Chun Shin-Il, according to the Justice Ministry, which is formally responsible for proposing the list of pardons. Both were serving prison terms for bribery.
Former parliamentary speaker Park Hee-Tae and an ex-senior political affairs aide to Lee were also pardoned after being convicted last year for their involvement in alleged vote-buying in Lee’s ruling conservative party.
Elderly and foreign prisoners were also pardoned, officials said.
The list did not include Lee’s elder brother who was convicted and sentenced last week to two years in jail for corruption, although there were speculations that his brother’s case was rushed through the court to make him eligible for a presidential pardon, AFP reports.
A spokesman for president-elect Park Geun-Hye said the controversial pardons were an “abuse of presidential power” and against the “will of the people”.
“The special pardons are very regrettable,” spokesman Yoon Chang-jung said.
Lee dismissed criticism, saying it was carried out “according to law and procedure”. Lee has been accused of particularly favouring the leaders of South Korea’s giant family-run conglomerates, or chaebols.