SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won was released from jail on Friday following the government’s grant of a special pardon ahead of Liberation Day aimed at revitalizing the country’s slowing economy.
Chey was also granted a full presidential pardon in 2008 by then President Lee Myung-bak.
“I will make my best effort to make SK Group a beloved firm among South Koreans,” Chey said as he walked out from a jail based in Uijeongbu, just north of Seoul at 12:00 a.m.
Chey had been serving his jail sentence since 2013 for embezzling 46.5 billion won (US$43.6 million) from two SK Group affiliates and funneling the funds into personal investments in stock futures and options in 2008.
The head of South Korea’s No. 3 conglomerate was released after 30 months. Chey declined to comment on when he will return to the business group and join the management.
President Park Geun-hye granted special pardons Thursday to Chey and more than 6,500 people ahead of Liberation Day.
“I decided to grant special pardons in order to help forge national reconciliation and revitalize the economy, as well as boost people’s spirits,” Park said in a Cabinet meeting.
The total number of beneficiaries stood at 6,527 people, including Hanwha Group Vice Chairman Kim Hyun-chung. Most of them are ordinary convicts, according to the Justice Ministry.
The pardons are part of celebrations to mark the 70th anniversary of Korea’s independence from Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule.
Liberation Day, which falls on Aug. 15, is one of the major holidays in South Korea. Presidents usually grant special pardons in commemoration of major national holidays.
Speculation had been high that Park would use the pardons to get badly needed cooperation from the business community as Asia’s fourth-largest economy has been faltering as of late.
The absence of convicted politicians from the beneficiary list underscored Park’s commitment to exercising the right to grant pardons in an extremely restrictive manner.
Park has been critical of issuing special pardons in a way that could run counter to the public sentiment.
Park has said that special pardons granted to a businessman in 2005 and 2007 when President Roh Moo-hyun was in office undermined the rule of law.
She made the comments after the businessman, Sung Wan-jong, left behind a so-called “bribery list” before hanging himself in April. Listed on the memo are the names of eight heavyweight politicians close to Park.
Last year, South Korea’s top court upheld a four-year jail sentence against Chey for embezzling 46.5 billion won (US$43.6 million) from two SK Group affiliates and funneling the funds into personal investments in stock futures and options in 2008.