President Park Geun-hye on Monday indicated she would grant special pardons next month to mark the 70th anniversary of Korea's independence from Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule.
"The people are struggling with their lives now, and I believe that special pardons are needed to be carried out to mark the 70th anniversary of Liberation Day as well as to achieve the national growth and forge national reconciliation," she said at a meeting with her senior secretaries.
The president also asked her secretaries to review the list of candidates and set the criteria for and number of the planned pardons.
Park's remarks immediately raised questions over whether she would exercise her special authority to release imprisoned business tycoons.
During her campaign, Park vowed to administer the law strictly and treat all criminal offenders equally.
The president has granted special paroles once so far only for minor crimes committed by those living in poverty on Lunar New Year's Day last year. She has not granted presidential pardons for any politicians or businessmen in prison since taking office in early 2013.