SEOUL Feb 11 A South Korean court gave Hanwha
Group Chairman Kim Seung-youn a suspended sentence on Tuesday,
overturning a landmark decision that had forced a head of a
major conglomerate to serve time for breach of trust.
In giving the lighter sentence, the Seoul High Court took
into account his contributions to South Korea's economic
development and his poor health, presiding judge Kim Ki-jeong
told a packed courtroom.
When Kim first received a four-year prison sentence in 2012
for illegally diverting funds from healthy affiliates to weaker
companies he owned, it was widely interpreted as a fresh
hardline stance by courts against misdeeds by leaders of South
Korean family-owned conglomerates.
The 2012 ruling had come amid an election campaign by
current President Park Geun-hye on a platform to outlaw soft
sentences for embezzlement and other common offences committed
by executives at the conglomerates, also known as chaebol.
Energy-to-insurance conglomerate Hanwha is the country's tenth
biggest business group.
Before that, four heads of the Samsung, Hyundai, SK and
Hanwha chaebol who were convicted of crimes got only suspended
sentences and then later received presidential pardons.
Kim, now 62, served part of his sentence but was released to
hospital in January last year for an undisclosed illness. The
sentence had been reduced to three years in 2013 on an appeal
and has now been suspended for five years.
After Kim's sentencing, SK Holdings Chairman
Chey Tae-won received a four year prison term for embezzling
corporate funds and has been in jail for a little over a year.
Chey, 54, is due to have a ruling in his appeal this month.
CJ Group Chairman Lee Jay-hyun, also 54, faces a lower court
ruling this month on charges relating to tax evasion and the
formation of a slush fund. Lee was detained in July of last
year, but the detention was suspended due to poor health
resulting in a kidney transplant.
(Editing by Edwina Gibbs)