Court Upholds Ex-Samsung Chief Verdict

South Korean appeals court reaffirmed the suspended prison sentence and guilty verdict handed down to Lee Kun-hee, who led the industrial conglomerate for 20 years.

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- A South Korean appeals court upheld Friday a lower court decision that spared the former chairman of Samsung from going to jail for tax evasion.

The Seoul High Court reaffirmed the suspended prison sentence and guilty verdict handed down to Lee Kun-hee, who led South Korea's biggest industrial conglomerate for 20 years.

In July, the Seoul Central District Court sentenced Lee to three years in prison but suspended the term for five years, meaning he would stay out of jail as long as he avoided further legal woes.

South Korean judges have repeatedly shown leniency in high-profile corporate cases, refusing to send tycoons to prison for fears of the effect it would have on the country's economy.

The 66-year-old Lee is a South Korean corporate icon who has personified Samsung. He succeeded his father as chairman and is widely credited with turning the flagship Samsung Electronics Co. into a global brand.

Presiding Judge Seo Ki-seog asked Lee "to make further contributions for national development." Lee, who stood in the packed courtroom as Seo read out the decision and verdict, was not asked to speak.

The lower court had found Lee guilty of not paying about 47 billion won ($34 million at current exchange rates) in taxes and fined him 110 billion won ($79 million).

Special prosecutors had demanded a prison term of seven years and fines of 350 billion won ($251 million).

Lee had appealed the tax evasion conviction, while special prosecutors were contesting the lower court's ruling acquitting him on separate breach of trust charges and the suspended prison sentence.

The Seoul High Court also upheld the acquittal on breach of trust. Those charges stemmed from allegations of dubious financial transactions purportedly aimed at transferring corporate control from Lee to his son.

Lee was indicted in April following a probe by special prosecutors into allegations of wrongdoing aired by a former Samsung lawyer last year.

The indictment prompted Lee to quit as Samsung head later that month.

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