(ATTN: CHANGES headline; UPDATES with remarks on Samsung chief pardon issue)
SEOUL, June 2 (Yonhap) -- President Moon Jae-in talked about whether to grant Lee Jae-yong, the de-facto head of Samsung Group, a special pardon, during a meeting with a group of business leaders, Cheong Wa Dae said Wednesday.
Moon had a luncheon meeting with the leaders of South Korea's four major conglomerates -- SK, Hyundai, LG and Samsung -- at Cheong Wa Dae earlier in the day.
The attendees were SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won, Hyundai Motor Group Chairman Chung Eui-sun and LG Group Chairman Koo Kwang-mo. Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Kim Ki-nam, who is in charge of the firm's device solutions division, attended the meeting instead of Lee. The Samsung scion was imprisoned in January for embezzlement and bribery.
Chey, who doubles as chief of the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI), reminded Moon of the business lobby group's request for a presidential pardon for Lee. Kim also stressed that Samsung needs the leader of the conglomerate in office, not in jail, for swift decisions on new investments linked with its chip-making business.
Moon "listened to" their opinions and replied that he "understands a (related) difficulty," Cheong Wa Dae spokesperson Park Kyung-mee said at a press briefing.
The president was quoted as adding, "There are many people who sympathize with it. I am well aware that the economic situation for now is proceeding differently from the previous one and that a bold role is required for businesses."
Samsung and the KCCI have lobbied for Lee to be pardoned, especially ahead of the Aug. 15 Liberation Day, an anniversary on which South Korea's presidents have often used their right to special pardon as part of efforts for promoting national unity.
Before the closed-door luncheon session mainly intended for discussions on the results of Moon's White House summit with President Joe Biden in late May, Moon took note of the conglomerates' support.
In announcements timed with Moon's trip to the U.S., they unveiled plans for massive investments in the U.S., as their top executives traveled with the president.
"The results of the South Korea-U.S. summit talks were quite good thanks to participation by the four groups in the U.S. trip," Moon said in front of pool reporters.
In particular, he stressed, it was very meaningful that the allies have agreed to expand bilateral economic cooperation to cover the initiative related to global supply chains in such high-tech sectors as semiconductors, batteries and electric vehicles.
"I think that it is quite meaningful for the alliance to have developed comprehensively like this," the president told the business leaders. "It was also very significant that the U.S. has chosen South Korea as the most necessary partner (regarding the supply chains)."
He then dismissed worries that increased investments by local businesses in the U.S. may lead to a reduction in jobs here. It would instead create more jobs and opportunities in South Korea because small and medium-sized contract firms would follow in the footsteps of those conglomerates, and the exports of parts, materials and equipment would grow significantly, he added.
It marked Moon's first separate meeting with the representatives from the so-called Big Four groups at Cheong Wa Dae since his inauguration in May 2017.
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