President Yoon Suk-yeol pardoned Lee Jae-yong, the de facto head of the Samsung conglomerate. Mr. Lee was released on parole last August. The pardon gives him a free hand to run Samsung, because it ends what had been a five-year ban on his return to management.

Nearly 1,700 people pardoned by Mr. Yoon on Friday. Most had been convicted of white-collar crimes and traffic violations. South Korean presidents often issue mass pardons to mark major holidays, like National Liberation Day, which falls on Monday. Samsung is the most successful of the handful of family-owned conglomerates.

The South Korean company is one of the biggest in the world. The company was accused of bribing its way into a deal with South Korea's government. The South Korean government has accused the company of bribery. It has since been cleared of any wrongdoing. The firm's CEO has been sentenced to two years in prison for bribery.

There is a long history of chaebol leaders being convicted of graft-related crimes and later receiving presidential pardons. Anticorruption activists have long argued that such pardons help to entrench corruption in South Korea. But business groups argue that the economy benefits when chaebols are free to run their empires.

In recent days, Mr. Yoon has seen his approval ratings dip below 30 percent. Recent public surveys found that a majority of South Koreans supported a pardon for Mr. Lee. “I am sincerely grateful for this opportunity to make a fresh start,” he said in a statement.
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