[Editorial] Yoon’s pardons are questionable at best, unjust at worst

Posted on : 2024-02-07 17:09 KST Modified on : 2024-02-09 07:11 KST
The president has let off the hook multiple former high-ranking officials convicted of malfeasance, some of whom have not so much as served a single day behind bars
President Yoon Suk-yeol speaks at a Cabinet meeting held on Feb. 6, where he announced special pardons for 980 people to coincide with the Lunar New Year holiday. (pool photo)
President Yoon Suk-yeol speaks at a Cabinet meeting held on Feb. 6, where he announced special pardons for 980 people to coincide with the Lunar New Year holiday. (pool photo)

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol announced a series of special pardons on Tuesday. Yoon pardoned 24 high-level government officials implicated in government influence-peddling, including Kim Ki-choon, a chief of staff to former President Park Geun-hye, and Kim Kwan-jin, defense minister under Park. 

Yoon also pardoned an executive of a broadcaster who suppressed union activity and chaebol executives implicated in mismanagement and corruption. Yoon’s pardon focused on big names known to be sympathetic to the current administration, and many had their rights and privileges restored.

The pardon list included a whopping 980 persons, among whom only three are politicians belonging to the opposition. The president has a right to grant special pardons. That’s within his authority. But the power of pardon was granted as a method to help restore political and social unity. Yoon’s blatant violations of fairness and equality before the law will likely do the opposite: exacerbate political and social divisions.  

Even worse is that this is Yoon’s fourth series of overtly slanted pardons. Thus far he has pardoned former Presidents Park Geun-hye and Lee Myung-bak and other conservative-leaning names linked to either influence-peddling or corruption. In August of last year, he pardoned and reinstated former Gangseo District chief Kim Tae-woo just three months after the Supreme Court convicted him of leaking confidential information. Yoon even had the gall to install Kim Tae-woo in the next by-election for Gangseo District, which ended in a humiliating defeat for the People Power Party. Yet only six months later, Yoon is at it again with pardons that are questionable at best and downright unjust at their worst.  

The latest series of pardons is an affront to both the judicial process and the public’s emotional sense of justice. Former Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin approved Cyber Command engaging in political interference by posting some 9,000 online comments that supported the Park Geun-hye administration, for which he was sentenced to two years imprisonment. Yet thanks to Yoon’s pardon, he won’t spend a single day behind bars. 

Kim Ki-choon, Park Geun-hye’s former chief of staff, was the architect behind a “cultural blacklist” for suppressing artists and writers. He was sentenced to two years behind bars in January, but now it looks as if he’ll walk free. 

Two former Defense Security Command chiefs of staff who were sentenced to two years for illegally surveilling the family members of Sewol ferry victims actually forfeited their appeals around five to six days before Yoon’s official pardon. Forfeiting one’s appeal is basically volunteering to go to prison. There is no logical reason to do so — that is, unless you’ve caught wind that you’re about to be pardoned. Technically, only those that have been officially sentenced can be pardoned. It is therefore reasonable to assume that the individuals in question were informed of the pardon in advance, so they could cancel their appeals and thereby qualify for a pardon. 

Yoon is a president that exploited his authority to veto to protect his wife from investigation. He also utilizes his authority to pardon to protect people who serve his personal and political interests. At this point, no matter how hard he pitches judicial justice, fairness and political unity, it’s unlikely anybody will buy it.    

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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