Mr. Lee was also fined $109 million. But the Seoul Central District Court cleared him of criminal charges of breach of trust, which stemmed from two Samsung affiliates’ decisions to sell stock to his son, Jae Yong, at unfairly low prices to help the son take over management control of the business empire.
Mr. Lee, who built Samsung into South Korea’s best-known global brand during his 20-year tenure as chairman, was indicted in April on charges of evading taxes on billions of dollars that prosecutors said he hid in stock accounts under the names of his aides.
On Wednesday, the court said there was not enough evidence to convict Mr. Lee on charges involving the subsidiary Samsung Everland. In the case of another affiliate, Samsung SDS, the statute of limitations had expired, the court said.
Prosecutors had sought seven years in prison and more than three times the amount of the fine that was levied, saying the country’s courts should end leniency toward business tycoons.
Mr. Lee, 66, resigned shortly after he was indicted in April after a three-month investigation into of Samsung, the country’s most powerful conglomerate.
The probe was triggered by the a former chief counsel at Samsung, Kim Yong-chul, who alleged that Mr. Lee and his aides managed a huge slush fund to cement the Lee family’s management control and to bribe prosecutors, politicians and officials.
Prosecutors said that they found $4.5 billion of Mr. Lee’s personal assets under other names and that he evaded $112 million in taxes. But they said they could not find evidence to bring bribery charges against him.
Corruption scandals have regularly rocked South Korea’s family-controlled conglomerates, known as chaebols. But convictions have rarely resulted in prison time.
Chung Mong-koo, the chairman of the Hyundai Motor Co. conglomerate was sentenced to three years in prison for embezzlement last year. But an appeals court suspended his term last month, saying he was too important to the nation’s economy to go to jail.
Samsung comprises 60 companies that sell everything from computer chips, cell phones, ships, apartments, textiles and insurance policies. The group accounts for an estimated 20 percent of South Korea’s exports.