Samsung heir walks free after suspended jail term

2018 captures Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong arriving at the Seoul High Court to attend his appeals trial over bribery in connection with a scandal that removed former President Park Geun-hye from office last year

The Seoul Central District Court also found him guilty of tax evasion and other charges 10 years ago but suspended sentences meant he never served time in jail.

His sentencing confirmed what had always been suspected: links between the nation's most successful and renowned company and the country's government.

Lee was charged with offering $38 million (£26.9 million) in bribes to former president Park Geun-hye and her confidante, Choi Soon-sil, embezzling Samsung funds, hiding assets overseas, concealing proceeds from criminal activities and perjury.

A South Korean appeals court on Monday handed a 2 ½-year suspended jail sentence to Samsung heir Lee Jae-yong in a corruption case seen as a test of the country's commitment to ending cozy ties among political and business elites. His lawyers say he plans to appeal to the Supreme Court against these charges.

Speaking in front of cameras in Seoul, Lee said his time behind bars had been a "really valuable" period of self-reflection.

Lee's time away hasn't affected Samsung's bottom line.

Lee is expected to make public appearances in the coming days.

The court has found Lee guilty of some lesser charges, and he is prohibited from traveling outside South Korea without a judge's approval. It said as well that just 3.6 billion won had been paid in bribes, and not the 7.2 billion won the lower court had ruled.

Dow industrials drop 600 points, extending a weeklong slump
Traders and financial professionals work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange ahead of the opening bell, February 2. Fears about inflation were stoked by the stronger-than-anticipated jobs report for January, which came out Friday morning.

The ruling will help Samsung recover from its leadership vacuum and bruised corporate image, but it repeats a pattern of Korean corporate bigwigs being let off on appeal no matter how egregious the corruption allegations against them.

The Samsung scion's original six-month long trial centered on a 2015 merger between two Samsung affiliates that gave Lee fresh shares in Samsung C&T Corp., then a major shareholder in smartphone maker Samsung Electronics. "I had neither the knowledge nor the competence to make decisions", Lee told the court.

The appeal trial began in October previous year following appeals from both prosecutors and Lee's defence.

It is unclear how big of a role he will now play in Samsung's future.

Park Geun-hye has been detained since her arrest in March 2017 while Choi and many of Park's ex-cabinet members and allies are also in jail.

While Lee was in detention, Samsung Electronics appointed new leaders and continued to outperform.

Choi is in custody on charges of meddling in state affairs without holding a government position and using her connections with the president to extort vast sums of money from many of South Korea's best-known companies.

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