Prosecutors asked a South Korean court to sentence former Samsung Chairman Lee Kun-hee to seven years in prison for tax evasion and other charges, saying the country's powerful business conglomerates should not be immune from the law.
Prosecutors also demanded that Lee be fined 350 billion won ($350 million) for the charges that led him to resign as head of Samsung Group, the most prominent of the South Korea's family-run conglomerates known as "chaebol."
"So far, the people have believed chaebol groups in our country were a sanctuary. But now, no organization and no individual who commits illegal activities will be tolerated," special prosecutor Cho Joon-woong said at Seoul Central District Court.
Lee's defense attorneys asked the court for leniency, citing the contributions of Samsung and Lee to South Korea's economic development.
Reading a prepared speech, Lee appeared to admit to the charges and said he was "ashamed" for buying shares under borrowed names and evading taxes.
"I feel sorry to the people and Samsung employees and everything is my fault," he told the court. "It's natural for me to take responsibility, whether legally or morally."
Lee also asked for leniency for those who worked for him.
The court said it would deliver its verdict next Wednesday. Tax evasion carries a possible sentence of between five years to life in prison, but judges have leeway to decree that no jail time be done.
It is highly unlikely that the 66-year-old Lee will spend any time inside prison. South Korean judges have repeatedly refused to hand down prison sentences in other recent high-profile corporate cases.
The probe against Lee and Samsung was prompted by allegations by a former company lawyer that Samsung created a large slush fund to bribe prosecutors, officials and other influential figures.
In April, special prosecutors indicted Lee for evading taxes, breach of trust and violating the securities exchange law after a three-month probe into his family-run company. Prosecutors said there was not enough evidence to make a bribery case.
Lee, who had been one of the country's most powerful businessmen, resigned in April to take responsibility for his alleged wrongdoing.
Prosecutors have said they found 4.5 trillion won ($4.5 billion) of his personal assets under borrowed names and determined he evaded taxes worth 112.8 trillion won ($112 million). Lee was also charged with failing to report to the securities authorities changes in the ownership of his stock assets.
His breach of trust charge resulted from Lee having been briefed by aides about dubious financial transactions to transfer corporate control to his son — including sale of bonds convertible to shares to his children at below-market prices — which allegedly inflicted damage to subsidiaries.
Nine other current and former Samsung executives were also indicted in the special probe.
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 took the reins of Samsung two decades ago and Samsung-affiliated firms account for up to 20 percent of South Korea's exports by some estimates.
Source: AP News