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Politicians, businessmen receive Liberation Day pardons

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Gangseo District Chief Kim Tae-woo leaves the Suwon District Court in August last year after a hearing. [YONHAP]
Gangseo District Chief Kim Tae-woo leaves the Suwon District Court in August last year after a hearing. [YONHAP]

A former Seoul district chief, an ex-finance minister and scores of business tycoons were granted amnesty after the Cabinet on Monday approved the third round of presidential pardons issued by President Yoon Suk Yeol since he took office.

The pardons come into effect at midnight on Tuesday, which marks the Liberation Day holiday that celebrates the end of Japan’s 1910-45 colonial occupation of Korea.

Presidential pardons have typically been timed to coincide with Liberation Day, though the annual practice has come under increasing criticism in recent years for allowing business tycoons to avoid serving the entirety of their sentences in the name of “reinvigorating the economy,” as Justice Minister Han Dong-hoon phrased it at Monday’s Cabinet meeting.

Over 2,100 people were granted amnesty for mostly white-collar crimes in the latest round of presidential pardons.

Aside from prominent businessmen, several politicians who were at the center of past high-profile scandals also received pardons.

Among them was former Gangseo District chief Kim Tae-woo, who was removed from office in May — less than a year after he was elected — when the Supreme Court confirmed a 1-year suspended prison sentence handed to him by a lower court for leaking official secrets.

Kim formerly worked as an investigator with the state prosecution service and was charged with revealing official secrets to the media while he was assigned to a Blue House investigative team under the chief presidential secretary for civil affairs from December 2018 to February 2019.

Classified information he was convicted of leaking included intelligence on allegations of bribery against Woo Yoon-keun, Korea’s former ambassador to Russia, and former Korea National Railway Chief Kim Sang-gyun, along with other classified reports compiled by the special investigative team.

With the pardon, Kim is also able to run once more for public office.

Former Finance Minister Kang Man-soo also received a special pardon for committing abuses of official power during his 2008-2009 term in office.

Kang, who also served as head of the state-run Korea Development Bank (KDB), was convicted in 2017 of pressuring the government to designate his friend’s biotech firm as an official business partner and provide the company with billions of won in subsidies in 2009.

Kang served as a presidential economic adviser and chief of a presidential committee on industrial promotion between 2009 and 2011 before taking up the helm of KDB from 2011 to 2013.

Kang served his prison sentence from 2018 to 2021 when he was released on parole.

Other people who received special pardons include those convicted of minor violations of disease prevention policies during the Covid-19 pandemic, small- and medium-sized business owners who violated Covid-related restrictions due to financial difficulties, and convicts of advanced age or those who committed crimes out of economic hardship.

BY MICHAEL LEE [lee.junhyuk@joongang.co.kr]