Seoul, South Korea - A South Korean court has sentenced the billionaire Samsung heir to five years in prison for bribery and other crimes that fed public anger leading to the ouster of Park Geun-hye as South Korea's president.
The Seoul Central District Court said on Friday that Lee Jae-yong, 49, was guilty of offering bribes to the former president and her close friend to get government support for efforts to cement his control over the Samsung empire.
A panel of three judges also found him guilty of embezzling Samsung funds, hiding assets overseas, concealing profit from criminal acts and perjury. Prosecutors had sought a 12-year prison term.
The verdict is a stunning downfall for a princeling of South Korea's richest family that controls one of the world's largest consumer electronics companies.
Lee was accused of offering $38 million in bribes to four entities controlled by Choi Soon-sil, a friend of Park, in exchange for government help with a merger that strengthened Lee's control over Samsung at a crucial time.
Samsung has not denied transferring corporate funds. But Lee, vice chairman at Samsung Electronics and the Samsung founder's grandson, claimed innocence during the court hearing. He said he was unaware of the foundations or the donations, which were overseen by other executives.
Other former Samsung executives charged with Lee were also found guilty.
Choi Gee-sung, a mentor of Lee, and Chang Choong-ki were sentenced to four years in prison. Two other former executives received suspended prison terms.
The closely-watched verdict is the latest convulsion in a political scandal that prompted millions of South Koreans to protest last fall, culminating in the ouster and arrest of Park as well as the arrests of Choi and Lee, one of South Korea's most powerful tycoons,
Park, who was embroiled in a tumultuous series of scandals, was removed from office in March. She and Choi are both currently on trial.
A lawyer for Lee says the billionaire's legal team will appeal the five-year prison sentence.
"As a lawyer I cannot possibly agree with the juridical decisions and acknowledged facts involved in the verdict," Samsung attorney Song Woo-cheo said outside the court. "We will appeal against the decision and I am sure that in the appellate trial all the charges will be dismissed."
A maximum of two appeals are possible in the case.