South Korean tycoon Chey Tae-won, who's serving a second jail term for fraud, has been pardoned. He's one of 6,527 people freed by President Park Geun-hye, who once vowed to restrain powerful family conglomerates.
President Park Geun-hye risked mounting public aversion to powerful family groupings - known as "chaebol" - on Thursday, saying South Korea needed jailed business executives to help "revitalize" the country's spluttering economy.
Chey, who chairs the nation's third largest conglomerate, the SK Group, has served 31 months out of his 48-month jail term for funneling funds from two affiliate firms into his own personal investment portfolio.
He had remained chairman of SK Group while in prison.
Dozen businessmen included in pardon
A dozen other lesser known businessmen were also included in Thursday's pardons described by South Korea's justice ministry as a gesture to "give them chances" to help bolster the economy.
South Korea's government timed the pardons ahead of the nation's marking on Saturday of the 70th anniversary of Korea's liberation from Japanese colonial occupation.
Took office on anti-fraud ticket
Park won office in late 2012 promising to depart from South Korea's long practice of pardoning convicted chaebol bosses or suspending their sentences by saying she would "strictly limit" such pardons.
Among South Koreans surveyed in a Gallup poll in late July, 54 percent opposed chaebol boss pardons, while 35 percent backed them.
Industry pressed for special pardons
Last month, Park was urged publicly by the Federation of Korean Industries (FKI) to issue special pardons to convicted businessmen to help bolster the economy.
Chaebol families reputedly control massive corporate groups with small direct stakes, using a complicated structure of cross-shareholdings.
Heavy-handed conduct by South Korea's rich elites made headlines in last December's "nut rage" case.
The daughter of an airline chairman took offense at the way she had been served macadamia nuts while flying as a passenger. She later apologized publicly.
Economic agenda coming unstuck?
Analysts quoted by Reuters said Park's agenda has been derailed by the sluggish economy and reliance of her ruling Saenuri party on support from high-income voters.
Chey's pardon is not his first. In 2003, he was sentenced to three years in prison for his role in a $1.3 billion (1.1 billion euro) accounting fraud.
He was released after just seven months inside. In 2008, he was granted a full presidential pardon.
ipj/kms (Reuters, AFP, AP)