Brushing off criticism from his successor, South Korea's outgoing president Lee Myung-bak yesterday pardoned a host of former close aides and confidantes jailed for corruption.
The pardons for 55 people included Lee's long-time confidante and former minister Choi See-joong and friend and businessman Chun Shin-il - both serving prison terms for bribery.
Former parliamentary speaker Park Hee-tae and an ex-senior political affairs aide to Lee were also pardoned. Both were convicted last year for their roles in a vote-buying scandal in Lee's ruling conservative party.
"This is not an abuse of power. It was carried out according to law and procedure," Lee's spokesman told reporters after the pardons were announced.
The list did not include the president's elder brother, 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.
Lee's successor, president-elect Park Geun-hye, who had urged Lee not to hand out the pardons, felt it was "extremely regrettable" that he had nevertheless decided to do so, her spokeswoman told reporters. "The latest special pardons ignore the will of the people and are an abuse of presidential power, and will undoubtedly trigger nationwide condemnation.
Park, who will assume office next month, and Lee are both from the same conservative New Frontier Party.
The right of South Korean presidents to grant pardons is enshrined in the constitution and is often exercised at the time of major national holidays and at the end of their terms.
The list announced yesterday was Lee's seventh round of pardons since he took office, and his previous acts of clemency have generated similar criticism.
He has been accused of particularly favouring the leaders of South Korea's giant family-run conglomerates, or chaebols.
In 2008, Lee pardoned Hyundai Motor head Chung Mong-koo, who had been convicted of embezzlement and other charges.
In 2009, he pardoned Samsung Electronics chairman Lee Kun-hee - convicted of tax evasion - to allow the tycoon to boost Seoul's effort to host the Winter Olympics as a member of the International Olympics Committee.