South Korean appeal court gives Samsung heir suspended prison term

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Samsung heir Lee Jae-yong has been given a two-and-a-half-year suspended jail sentence by a South Korean appeal court in a corruption case seen as a test of the country’s commitment to ending cosy ties between political and business elites.

Lee, the only son of Samsung’s ailing chairman, had been sentenced to five years in prison last August after being convicted of bribery and other crimes linked to a political scandal that took down former South Korean president Park Geun-hye.

The Samsung vice chairman pleaded not guilty to charges that he used Samsung corporate funds to bribe Ms Park and a confidante, seeking to consolidate his control over Samsung and facilitate a smooth transfer of corporate leadership from his father.

Prosecutors had sought a 12-year prison term for Lee at the appeal court.

The more lenient ruling surprised many who were expecting a tough stance from the court.

Souh Korea Samsung Scandal
Samsung heir Lee Jae-yong leaves the High Court in Seoul (Kim Min-hee/AP)

Close ties among political and business leaders were once seen as the key to South Korea’s impressive rise from the ashes of its 1950-53 war, but they are now blamed for stifling innovation and fostering inequality and corruption.

Ms Park was impeached and removed from office over the Lee allegations and other alleged corruption and her criminal trial is ongoing.

“To a certain extent, this case started by the public’s desire wanting to see the end in collusion between the government and big businesses,” said Chung Sun-sup, head of corporate analysis firm

Before the final hearing at the appeal court, Lee paid back 8 billion won (£5.8 million) to Samsung Electronics. The lower court had said Lee embezzled that amount from Samsung to bribe a confidante of Ms Park’s.

Despite Lee pleading not guilty, few had expected he would walk out of jail.

“If he were found innocent or had received a suspended prison term, it would have flipped out the entire country,” Mr Chung said before the ruling.

Prosecutors were expected to take the case to the Supreme Court, the final court of appeal in South Korea.

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