By Duncan Mackay

January 10 - Lee Kun-hee (pictured), the former chairman of Samsung, claims to have met several members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) during his first foreign trip since being given a Presidential pardon so he can help Pyeongchang's bid to host the 2018 Winter Olympics.

Lee and his wife travelled to the United States last Wednesday for the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, where Olympic sponsor Samsung unveiled their latest televisions and gadgets, and he said he took the opportunity to meet with a number of IOC members during the weekend, who helped him celebrate his 68th birthday yesterday.

Lee had been given a suspended three-year prison sentence and fined 110 billion won (£58 million) - the biggest in South Korean history - after he had been convicted of failing to pay $39 million (£24 million) in taxes, following allegations he hid money in accounts held under the names of aides.

The case led to him temporarily standing down as a member of the IOC but he now plans to resume his duties so he can lobby his colleagues in the race against Annecy and Munich to host the 2018 Games.

He claimed that despite Pyeongchang being the favourites having narrowly missed out on the 2010 Olympics - which went to Vancouver - and 2014 - Sochi -  it is too early to try to make a judgement about how things are going.

Lee said: "Nobody knows [who is winning].

"I truly don't know.

"It is difficult to imagine."

The IOC are due to announce the host city at its Session in Durban on July 6, 2011.

Lee said: “Though it won`t be easy, I`ll do my best for starters.

"The only way to win the bid is to make sure that the Government and citizens alike make concerted efforts toward the same goal."

But the decision by President Lee Myung-bak to give Lee a New Year pardon has continued to anger several leading figures in South Korea and has led to protests.

Members of various civic organisations, including the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, have held a demonstration in front of the Cheong Wa Dae [the Presidential office in South Korea or Blue House] condemning the decision to pardon Lee.

The Hankyoreh, a newspaper founded in 1988 by journalists disillusioned by working on other publications subject to Government censors, has led the media opposition to the pardon and recently published a cartoon of Lee and the President together in a bobsleigh under the headline "Riding the slippery slope between Pyeongchang and Sejong".

Sejong City is a special administrative district housing nine Ministries and four national agencies which the Government hopes to turn into a education and science-centered city with several businesses, research centres and universities.

The Hankyoreh allege that as part of the deal for Lee being given a pardon Samsung will relocate its main headquarters there.

One unnamed South Korea judge told The Hankyoreh: "I acknowledge that the logic of economics-above-all has permeated throughout the judiciary, however, I believe the President is damaging it by intervening and nakedly inserting economically-motivated decisions."

Contact the writer of this story at [email protected] 

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