South Korea pardons CJ Group chairman, 4,875 others, to mark holiday

SEOUL, Aug 12 (Reuters) - South Korean President Park Geun-hye on Friday granted pardons to 4,876 people ahead of next week’s Liberation Day holiday, including the chairman of CJ Group, the country’s 15th largest conglomerate by assets.

Lee Jay-hyun, the ailing 56-year-old chairman of the CJ Group, which has interests spanning food, entertainment and logistics, was sentenced last year to two and a half years in jail for tax evasion and embezzlement.

However, Lee was released from prison due to poor health and has been in hospital after undergoing a kidney transplant.

“In the case of businessmen, we selected a limited number of people ... after gathering diverse opinions to unite our people and overcome an economic crisis,” the Justice Ministry said in a statement.

It is a tradition for the president to announce pardons ahead of Liberation Day on Aug. 15 and there is a long history of convicted bosses of the family-run conglomerates, known as chaebol, being released or having their sentences suspended.

President Park Geun-hye last year pardoned the chairman of the country’s third-largest conglomerate, SK Group, despite growing discontent among South Koreans over the conduct of the conglomerates, which dominate Asia’s fourth-largest economy.

Over the years, the heads of the Samsung, Hyundai Motor, SK and Hanwha chaebol have been convicted of crimes but received suspended sentences, and later, presidential pardons.

Lee, the CJ chairman, is a grandson of Samsung founder Lee Byung-chull, and heads one of the two branches of the Lee family, South Korea’s richest business dynasty.

“I thank the president and the people for giving me the chance for treatment and recovery ... I will work hard to contribute to the country and society with my business as my life’s last goal,” CJ Group cited Lee as saying (Reporting by Ju-min Park; Editing by Ed Davies)