S. Korea president issues controversial pardons to former aides

SEOUL (AFP) - South Korea's outgoing president Lee Myung Bak on Tuesday pardoned a host of former close aides and confidantes jailed for corruption, despite criticism from his successor.

The special pardons for 55 people included Mr Lee's longtime confidante and former minister Choi See Joong and friend and businessman Chun Shin Il - both serving prison terms for bribery.

Former parliament speaker Park Hee Tae and an ex-senior political affairs aide to Mr Lee were also pardoned. Both were convicted last year for their roles in a vote-buying scandal in Mr Lee's ruling conservative party.

The list did not include the president's elder brother, Mr Lee Sang Deuk, who was convicted and sentenced last week to two years in jail for corruption.

There had been speculation that his brother's case had been rushed through the court to make him eligible for a presidential pardon.

Mr Lee's successor, president-elect Park Geun-Hye, had strongly criticised Mr Lee's decision to issue the end-of-office pardons, and voiced particular disquiet about showing clemency to anyone convicted on corruption charges.

Ms Park believed it amounted to "abusing the presidential power bestowed by the people" and "going against the will of the people", her spokesman Cho Yoon-sun said on Monday.

Mr Lee and Ms Park are both from the same conservative New Frontier Party.

Mr Lee had promised at the beginning of his five-year term to form a "moral government" untarnished by the chronic corruption that haunted past administrations.

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