S. Korea to pardon former leader Lee for corruption crimes

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FILE – Former South Korean President Lee Myung-bak appears for his first trial at the Seoul Central District Court in Seoul, South Korea, March 23, 2018. The South Korean government of President Yoon Suk Yeol said Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2022, it will grant a special pardon to ex-President Lee, who was sentenced to a 17-year prison term for a range of corruption crimes. (Chung Sung-Jun/Pool Photo via AP, File)

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — The South Korean government of President Yoon Suk Yeol said Tuesday it will grant a special pardon to ex-President Lee Myung-bak, who was sentenced to a 17-year prison term for a range of corruption crimes.

The Justice Ministry said in a statement that Lee is among 1,373 convicts who will be pardoned Wednesday. It said it has decided to include some politicians, such as Lee, as part of efforts to promote a national unity.

Lee, 81, was released from prison temporarily in June over health concerns.

The CEO-turned-conservative hero had been convicted of taking bribes from big businesses including Samsung, embezzling funds from a company that he owned, and other corruption-related crimes before and during his presidency from 2008 to 2013.

He was South Korea’s first president with a business background and once symbolized the country’s economic rise. He began his business career with an entry-level job at Hyundai Group’s construction arm in the mid-1960s, before he rose to CEO of 10 companies under Hyundai Group and led the group’s rapid rise at a time when South Korea’s economy grew explosively from the rubble of the 1950-53 Korean War.

Lee’s corruption case erupted after his successor and fellow conservative Park Geun-hye was ousted and sent to jail over a separate 2016-17 corruption scandal. The back-to-back scandals deeply hurt conservatives in South Korea and deepened a national divide.

Park, who was serving a lengthy prison term, was pardoned in December 2021, when South Korea was governed by Yoon’s liberal predecessor, Moon Jae-in.

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