South Korea: Samsung heir Lee Jae-yong freed

South Korea: Samsung heir Lee Jae-yong freed

Lee, 49 and the only son of Samsung's ailing chairman, was given a five-year prison sentence in August on bribery and other charges linked to that brought down former Ms Park. However, while the government has appointed several anti-chaebol figures to powerful positions in the administration, it can not - at least publicly - influence the judiciary.

Lee had been incarcerated for nearly a year since he was indicted.

Park, who was removed from power in March and is on trial separately for charges of corruption and abuse of power, has denied seeking bribes for herself or her friend.

"Again, I am very sorry for being unable to put my best face forward with all of you", Lee told waiting reporters.

In reducing the sentence, it took into consideration that it would have been hard for Lee to resist extortion from the two women and that he has no criminal record. He later appealed his sentence, which was ruled in his favor by cutting it down to two and a half years.

The judge said there were no explicit or implicit demands for favours, also accepting Lee's lawyers' argument that Park pressured Lee for the payments.

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The judges' surprise decision comes just days before South Korea hosts the Winter Olympics and has reignited a row over systemic corruption that led to President Park being ousted previous year. Moon was a highly popular candidate in last year's presidential election because of his anti-corruption platform stance.

Lee's initial sentence was halved and the remaining time he has not yet served was suspended.

While Lee was in detention, Samsung Electronics appointed new leaders and continued to outperform. Commentators said today's decision was in keeping with past lenient legal treatment of their leaders.

Kwon Young-june, a professor who researches corporate governance at Seoul's kyung Hae University, said he was startled to see the practice of letting powerful men off the hook with suspended sentences was still raging in South Korea.

Due to all the commotion, Lee was found to be using his wealth to influence Park's judgment on matters relevant to his own business interests, including a merger of two Samsung units. "The defendant passively offered bribes because he could not easily turn down their request".

- Kim Seung-youn, Hanwha Group chairman, was convicted at least twice, once for embezzlement in 2012 for which he was sentenced to four years, and for assault in which he received an 18-month sentence in 2007.