As most of you know, Hyundai Motor Chairman Chung Mong-koo was found guilty last year of fraud, embezzlement and running a slush fund, but stayed out of jail with a three-year suspended sentence and a photo-op at an orphanage. SK Telecom chief Chey Tae-won had his three-year sentence for fraud suspended. Hanwha boss Kim Seung-youn, served a brief jail term for beating up bar workers, but also had his sentence suspended.

Per today’s Reuters, the aforementioned “former” criminals have all been issued pardons by the “Justice” Ministry. The pardons, were of course, signed by LMB as part of the 341,000 other pardons to be issued on Liberation Day for this coming Friday.

UPDATE: Nice article in the dependable Asia Times expanding on the initial press releases.  Business lobbying groups are lauding it, but business analysts and economists are not.

“The Korean Chamber of Commerce and Industry said the special pardon will also help to boost transparent corporate governance and ethical management.”

Yeah right.  Besides being an outright lie, the above comment has got to be the worse attempt at doublethink ever.

Nevertheless, the decision was criticized elsewhere as likely to increase foreign investors’ perception that business in Korea was inequitable for non-Koreans while supporting the view that chaebol, family-run corporations with strong government ties, increased corruption and worked to the disadvantage of minority shareholders.

“The pardons demonstrate to foreign investors that there is no level playing field in Korea,” Bloomberg News quoted Kim Tae-dong, an economics professor at Sungkyunkwan University in Seoul and former monetary policy maker, as saying. “In order to do business here, you have to join hands with a chaebol, which is no different from the state of affairs before the Asian financial crisis.”

Leave it to the academic to tell it like it really is.

A nation’s path to economic and political development is a long and difficult one.  There are big triumphs and colossal mistakes.  Chalk this one up in the huge mistake column.