Outgoing Korean President pardons corrupt friends, associates

President Lee Myung-bak presides over a Cabinet meeting Tuesday.

Outgoing President Lee Myung-bak issued special pardons to 55 convicted criminals including some of his closest associates on Tuesday, inciting heavy criticism from his successor Park Geun-hye's transition team and all political parties.

Those granted pardons include former Korea Communications Commission chief Choi See-joong and businessman Chun Shin-il of Sejoong Namo Tour. The longtime confidants of Lee were serving prison terms for bribery.

Other beneficiaries were former National Assembly Speaker Park Hee-tae and former presidential secretary for political affairs Kim Hyo-jae. They were serving suspended sentences for their involvement in the vote-buying scheme employed during the Grand National Party's leadership race in 2008.

Choi and Park are also members of the so-called "group of six" who played critical roles in Lee's election campaign in 2007.

The list also includes Cho Hyun-joon of Hyosung Group, who is a cousin to the husband of Lee's youngest daughter. Last year Cho received a suspended sentence of two years for using company funds to purchase private real estate in the US.

Although a number of people with no connections to power or money are included among the 55, the political parties unanimously condemned the president for using his authority to "look after his own." Pardoned individuals without power or financial connections include five individuals imprisoned for their involvement in a violent protest in Yongsan, Seoul, which resulted in the death of five protesters and a police officer, and eight foreign nationals.

"Going ahead with the special pardon against the strong disapproval of the people and public sentiment is an abuse of the prerogative of mercy, and against legal justice," Saenuri Party spokesman Lee Sang-il said.

"The Saenuri Party can't but express strong resentment as the special pardons are opposed to the public's desire for political reform."

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