SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- A South Korean court handed a suspended sentence to former Samsung Chairman Lee Kun-hee on Wednesday, leaving the country's iconic business figure free from prison while convicting him for evading taxes.
The Seoul Central District Court found Lee guilty of not paying about 47 billion won ($46 million) in taxes and fined him 110 billion won ($109 million).
But the court did not send Lee to prison, saying he just kept the assets in question after inheriting them under borrowed names from his late father -- Samsung's founder -- and that he did not actively seek to evade the taxes.
Prosecutors had demanded a seven-year sentence and 350 billion won ($347 million) in fines against Lee.
"The extent of his crime is not serious enough to sentence him to prison," Judge Min Byung-hun said. He sentenced Lee to three years in prison and then suspended the sentence for five years, meaning Lee will not go to jail as long as he avoid 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 effects it would have on the country's economy.
"I'm sorry for causing trouble to the people," Lee said after the verdict, appearing relieved.
His sentence will be finalized unless either prosecutors or Lee appeal. Neither side immediately indicated whether they would do so.
Lee, who has personified Samsung Group, the nation's largest conglomerate, was indicted in April on three charges -- tax evasion, breach of trust and securities law violations.
The indictment prompted the 66-year-old tycoon to quit as Samsung head later that month, leaving the conglomerate he led for two decades as it grew into a global brand.
The court cleared Lee of the breach of trust charges, citing insufficient evidence. Those charges stemmed from allegations of dubious financial transactions to transfer corporate control to his son.
The court did find that Lee violated the securities exchange law by failing to report changes in ownership of his stock assets. But the judge said the violation was minor and did not weigh much in deciding the sentence.
It was Lee's second conviction. In a 1996 case, he was found guilty of having made payments to South Korean President Roh Tae-woo, who served from 1988 until 1993. About half a dozen other chiefs from chaebol, South Korea's family-run conglomerates, were also convicted.
Chaebol chiefs allegedly had a cozy relationship with the country's former authoritarian rulers, providing them with political funds and winning business favors in return.
The Samsung conglomerate consists of dozens of companies and has interests in businesses including electronics, shipbuilding, construction and life insurance. The group accounts for up to 20 percent of South Korea's exports by some estimates.