Samsung heir sentenced to five years in prison in South Korea

Lee Jae-yong was found guilty of charges including bribery, embezzlement and hiding assets overseas

Samsung heir sentenced to five years in prison in South Korea

People watch a TV screen showing Samsung Electronics Co. Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong's arrival for his trail at the Seoul Central District Court. Picture by: Ahn Young-joon/AP/Press Association Images

The billionaire heir to the Samsung empire has been sentenced to five years in prison after being convicted of offering bribes.

Lee Jae-yong was also found guilty by a panel of three judges of embezzlement, hiding assets overseas, concealing profits from criminal acts, and perjury.

The court in Seoul found Lee hoped that bribes would secure support from then-president Park Geun-hye for a merger that strengthened his control over the Samsung empire and its flagship Samsung Electronics business.

It marks the downfall for the scion of South Korea's richest family, which controls one of the world's largest consumer electronics companies.

Lee, 49, was accused of offering $38m (€32m) in bribes to four entities controlled by Choi Soon-sil, a friend of Park.

Payments were said to have included one supporting the equestrian career of Choi's daughter.

Samsung has not denied transferring funds.

But Lee, vice chairman at Samsung Electronics and the Samsung founder's grandson, had said he was unaware of the donations, which were overseen by other executives.

One of Lee's lawyers said he would appeal the ruling and that he was confident his client's innocence would be affirmed by a higher court.

The sentencing is the latest episode in a scandal that saw millions of South Koreans protest last autumn, leading to Park being ousted.

Park was removed from office in March. She and Choi are both currently on trial.

Other executives charged alongside Lee have also been convicted - with two jailed for four years each and two others receiving suspended sentences.

Samsung, founded in 1938, is seen as a symbol of South Korea's economic resurgence after the Korean war in the 1950s.

Powerful family-controlled business groups helped catapult the country from poverty to becoming a global economic power.