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Ex-Samsung Chief Handed 3-Year Suspended Jail Term

Former Samsung Group chief Lee Kun-hee, one of South Korea's most powerful businessmen, was handed a suspended 3-year jail sentence on Wednesday for tax evasion but was cleared of other charges.

A lower court also fined Lee 110 billion won ($109 million) but cleared him of charges of breach of trust and illegal issuance of convertible bonds. His sentence was suspended for five years.

The suspended verdict was widely expected and comes only a month after the head of world No. 6 automaker Hyundai Motor was given a suspended three-year jail sentence for fraud.

South Korean prosecutors had sought a seven-year jail term and a 350 billion won fine from Lee, who led the country's biggest conglomerate for nearly 20
years.

Lee, 66, stepped down in April from his top roles in the group and flagship Samsung Electronics, the world's leading maker of memory chips and LCD screens, after being indicted.

Despite his resignation, Lee remains a key shareholder in Samsung companies and his family wields a powerful influence over the group.

A spokesman for Samsung Group declined to comment when asked whether the company was planning to appeal the verdict.

Analysts and experts had expected Lee to escape any prolonged jail time because judges have often been lenient to corporate leaders convicted of white collar crimes on the view that putting them behind bars could hurt business activities.

Samsung group's firms account for 20 percent of total market capitalization on the main board of the South Korean bourse. The group has more than 250,000 employees and its annual revenues of $160 billion are around the size of Singapore's gross domestic product.

A special prosecutor in January launched a probe into corruption allegations after a former top legal executive at the group said some of its top management hid money and kept a slush fund to bribe politicians, prosecutors and officials.

The prosecutor also indicted nine other top executives, but found no evidence to support the bribery allegations.

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