President Park’s Pardon Problem

Insights Asia, Economy, Korean Peninsula

By Kim, Hae Dong (Journalist in South Korea)

President Park (Left) granted a pardon to SK Corporation chief Chey Tae-Won (Right) in a bid to boost South Korea's ailing economy

President Park (Left) granted a pardon to SK Corporation chief Choi Tae-Won (Right) in a bid to boost South Korea’s ailing economy

Seoul, Korea – On the eve of the anniversary of the South Korean Independence day, President Park Geun Hye delivered a surprise pardon package when she included the imprisoned CEO of SK Corporation Choi Tae Won in the list of prisoners. However unlike previous administrations, this pardon does not suggest corruption but rather a move by Park to boost the South Korean economy as she wrangles with in-party fighting and an uncooperative opposition.

The Pardon

The pardon itself was the biggest in history with 6,527 people on the list which was composed mainly of prisoners with minor offenses including road traffic violations and other economic offences rather than the accustomed list of politicians and heads of enterprises.

The inclusion of Choi Tae Won has been criticised as a violation of President Park’s promise to root out corruption, a reference to previous administrations believed to have delivered pardons to senior imprisoned figures of corporations as a reward for support during the then-president’s campaign. However to perceive President Park’s pardon of the SK Corporation chief as on par with these previous pardons is unfair.

First of all, the pardon did not include large numbers of CEO and senior figures seen under previous administrations. Secondly, South Korea’s economy has been suffering and party infighting as well as an uncooperative opposition in this difficult time has meant that Park has been unable to push through legislation seen as necessary to solve the issues. Park’s increasing urgency to tackle the growing problems in the economy was reflected in her speech on 6th August. In light of this, the pardon of Choi Tae Won should be seen in this context. Given the difficulties Park is experiencing with her party and the opposition, she used her exclusive power to restore the CEO of Korea’s third largest corporation. Sources suggested that Choi Tae Won’s release would boost the stock market and restore confidence in the Korean market. Moreover, SK Corporation is a huge player in the IT industry, a key part of President Park’s ‘Creative Economy’ project designed to propel the South Korean economy.

However any rallying in the stock market was short lived as the China’s devaluation of the Yuan tempered the impact of Choi Tae Won’s release.

By Kim, Hae Dong (Journalist in South Korea, yahong0566@hotmail.com)