Pardon me for resurrecting a prior post.
Voices for imprisoned conglomerate owners’ paroles and even pardons are gaining volume in Park Geun-hye’s ministries. Floating pardons over a long yuletide weekend, the Blue House seems to be taking a page from the White House’s old play book.
On Christmas Eve, ruling Saenuri Party leader Kim Moo-sung argued for paroles and even special pardons for businessmen behind bars. “As the nation’s economy is struggling, those who need to work should work. Investment is impossible without the owner’s decision,” Kim said.
The day after Christmas, Floor Leader Lee Wan-koo banged the parole drum. “If the government requests discussions about conditional release of business people, we can consult with the main opposition party.” Party spokesman Park Dae-chul gave an official statement: “The role of entrepreneurs is important in order for Korea to revive the economy that remains in the doldrums. We urge the government to deeply agonize over the issue given the two criteria of economy and law.”
Cheong Wa Dae spokesman Min Kyung-wook told reporters that he did not know whether the president’s office was considering granting parole to businessmen, adding the Justice Ministry, not Cheong Wa Dae, is the authority on the matter: “Entrepreneurial parole is the justice minister’s own right.”
The Joongang Ilbo added, “although the Blue House did not officially endorse granting parole for the convicted executives”, deference to the Justice Ministry could be “interpreted as its tacit recognition of the need to allow company heads more leniency in the legal system.” In an opinion piece, the Joongang Ilbo went so far as to say “the minister’s comments could well translate into his de facto consent.”
Those eligible for parole include SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won and his younger brother Jae-won. The older Chey has served 23 months of his four-year sentence for embezzling tens of billions of won of his company’s money. LIG Group Chairman Koo Bong-sang is also eligible for parole, having served 26 months of his four-year sentence for defrauding 215 billion won ($198 million) from investors.
Serving less than one-third of their terms, other imprisoned chaebol leaders are ineligible for parole; a presidential pardon is their only opt out of prison. A
rouges’ gallery sampling includes the following:
- CJ Group Chairman Lee Jae-hyun – Sentenced in September to a three-year prison term for embezzlement, breach of trust, and tax evasion totaling 165.7 billion won (US$159.5 million). Having served only four months, Lee has been granted temporary medical parole to remain in the hospital for treatment following a kidney transplant.
- Taekwang Group Chairman Lee Ho-jin – Sentenced to 4 1/2 years for embezzlement and breach of trust. Having served 63 days behind bars, Lee has been hospitalized for two years and waiting for a liver transplant.
- Former STX Group Chairman Kang Duk-soo – Sentenced in October to six years for cooking the company’s books for 584.1 billion won ($556.2 million) and embezzlement (67.9 billion won). To his credit, “the figures were much smaller than the charges raised by the prosecution, which had claimed Kang’s accounting fraud and embezzlement reached 2.3 trillion won and 340 billion won, respectively.”
- Tongyang Group Chairman Hyun Jae-hyun -Sentenced in October to 12 years in prison for fraud. Hyun ordered Tong Yang affiliates to issue 1.3 trillion won (US$1.2 billion) worth of virtually worthless corporate bonds and commercial paper. “The business tycoon systematically covered up the companies’ troubled finances by asking media to delete or tone down articles questioning their financial health,” the court added.
All news stories and opinion pieces seemed to omit that the heads of Korea’s ministries are appointed, not elected, and Korea’s is not a coalition government. The Justice Minister, appointed by PGH, serves at the President’s pleasure and carries out the President’s policies. If Chung Wa Dae were against granting paroles, all speculation would end with a simple no.
Complicating the Justice Ministry’s plans for paroles and pardons are candidate Park Geun-hye’s own words (“There will be no special pardons of tycoons“) and the recent nut-rage incident, which brought to the surface Koreans’ long suffering and ever broiling sense of Korean chaebols’ families’ perceived entitlement and privilege.
These handful of minority, though perhaps plurality, shareholders have successfully held their companies and other shareholders hostage and hoodwinked the Korean government and media into thinking that the whole of the Korean economy depends on their captaining of their companies …which they embezzled from and defrauded …which is the reason they are in prison. The Joongang Ilbo opined against a “quid pro quo”, that “the government must not grant them parole in exchange for promises to increase investments. It should be a matter of principles, not a business transaction.” Under what principle should an embezzler of nearly $200 million dollars be paroled from serving his four year sentence?
All this makes me wonder how Apple would fare if Steve Jobs were to die or what Microsoft would do if Bill Gates retired to pursue philanthropy. Given Korea’s dependence on Samsung, the real elephant in the economy, what would happen if Lee Kun-hee suffered an incapacitating heart attack?
I handicap the paroles and perhaps some pardons happening between Korea’s New Years: sometime after solar New Year, sometime before March 1, and with a probability density centered around Seollal.
Pardon my French, but ce qui la baise?