SKorea court convicts ex-Samsung boss

SEOUL: A South Korean court Friday sentenced former Samsung group chairman Lee Kun-Hee to a suspended three-year prison term and a fine of 110 billion won (89.2 million dollars) after convicting him over a bond deal.

The Seoul High Court found Lee guilty of breach of trust for his role in the issuance in 1999 of Samsung SDS bonds with warrants. The issuance was aimed at transferring management control over the group to his only son Lee Jae-Yong.

The court found that the bonds were issued at below market price and that the group subsidiary lost 22.7 billion won as a result. Lee's jail term was suspended for five years.

"The issuance of the bonds with warrants was remarkably unfair," the court said in a statement.

The former chairman was charged last year in the Samsung SDS case but found not guilty. However, the Supreme Court sent the case back to the high court for reconsideration.

Lee, 67, led the nation's biggest business group for almost 20 years. He stepped down in April 2008 following an investigation by special prosecutors into claims by a former group lawyer of irregularities.

In earlier trials he was convicted of tax evasion and received a suspended prison sentence.

But the Supreme Court in May cleared him of a separate breach of trust charge related to the issue of cheap Samsung Everland convertible bonds in the mid-1990s.

Giving mitigating reasons Friday, the high court said Lee "may have believed the issuance (of the Samsung SDS bonds) was not illegal...he has also contributed to the growth of Samsung SDS".

The special prosecutors, who claimed that Lee caused a loss of 150 billion won to the subsidiary company, have a week to decide whether to appeal for a tougher sentence.

"We will study the findings carefully before deciding whether to bring the case to the Supreme Court," special prosecutor Cho Joon-Woong told journalists.

Lee will consult lawyers before deciding whether to appeal, a Samsung Group official was quoted as saying by Yonhap news agency.

Samsung has 250,000 staff in 59 affiliates and accounted for more than 20 percent of the nation's exports in 2007.