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Samsung Chairman Apologizes At Tax Evasion Trial

During his trial, former Samsung boss Lee Kun-hee told the court that he assumed all responsibility for any wrongdoing by subordinates and asked for leniency for them.

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- Former Samsung boss Lee Kun-hee offered a public apology Thursday at the first session of his trial on tax evasion and other charges.

Lee's court appearance came less than two months after his stunning resignation from the helm of South Korea's biggest industrial conglomerate.

''I am truly sorry for causing this trouble,'' the gray-suited Lee said in a calm voice in the packed courtroom. ''I will take full responsibility for it and assume a sincere attitude in court.''

The 66-year-old Lee also apologized in April when he announced he was stepping down just days after being indicted by special prosecutors.

The charges followed a high-profile probe into the conglomerate, of which Samsung Electronics Co. is the flagship corporation.

Lee was indicted on charges of evading 112.8 billion won (US$110 million) in taxes and breach of trust.

Prosecutors, however, dismissed the most explosive claim by the former employee -- that Samsung used affiliates to raise a slush fund to bribe influential South Koreans -- for lack of evidence.

The tax evasion charge carries a possible sentence of between five years to life in prison, though judges have leeway to decree that no jail time be done.

A verdict is expected in mid-July, according to the court.

Lee appeared in court with seven other current and former Samsung executives also indicted as a result of the special probe.

Lee also told the court that he assumed all responsibility for any wrongdoing by subordinates and asked for leniency for them.

The Samsung conglomerate, founded by Lee's father, consists of dozens of companies and has interests in businesses including electronics, shipbuilding, construction and life insurance.

Lee's decision to step down after two decades at the top of the family-controlled conglomerate was unusual in South Korea, where tycoons have often remained in the boardroom even while standing trial.

Earlier this month, the Seoul High Court for a second time handed a suspended prison sentence to Hyundai Motor Co. Chairman Chung Mong-koo, leaving him free to continue running the rapidly expanding automaker.

Chung was convicted last year on charges of raising a slush fund from affiliates. He was sentenced by a lower court to three years in prison, which was suspended for five years on appeal.

The Supreme Court, however, ordered a resentencing after prosecutors appealed a community service aspect of the sentence. The Seoul High Court changed that part of the ruling, while maintaining the suspended prison term.

Associated Press Writer Jae-hyun Jeong contributed to this report.