CJ chairman given three-year prison term for embezzlement and tax evasion

September 12, 2014
CJ Chairman Lee Jay-hyun (Yonhap)

CJ Chairman Lee Jay-hyun (Yonhap)

SEOUL (Yonhap) — A Seoul appeals court, partly overturning a lower court’s ruling, on Friday handed down a reduced jail sentence of three years to the chairman of food and entertainment conglomerate CJ Group, who is charged with embezzlement and tax evasion.

The Seoul High Court, however, did not immediately lock up Lee Jay-hyun, citing his poor health. Lee was earlier temporarily released from jail for hospital treatment.

In a lower court ruling earlier this year, the 54-year-old tycoon had been sentenced to four years in prison for misappropriating 165.7 billion won (about $156 million) in company assets to offshore slush funds and dodging taxes in the process.

In its ruling on Friday, the Seoul High Court shortened Lee’s sentence by one year, after acquitting him of most of the embezzlement charges.

“It is difficult to judge that Chairman Lee created and used (slush funds) in an aim to personally embezzle the money,” Judge Kwon Ki-hoon said in his ruling.

The court also ordered Lee, the country’s 10th-richest man, to pay a fine of 25.1 billion won.

Prosecutors had initially asked the court to sentence the disgraced chairman to six years behind bars.

An investigation into the chief of the country’s 14th-largest conglomerate was launched in May 2013 amid a government effort to crack down on corporate crimes and rein in family-controlled business groups.

In July 2013, prosecutors indicted Lee on charges of creating slush funds since the 1990s and dodging taxes in the process. He faced multiple charges of embezzlement, tax fraud and dereliction of duty.

Prosecutors argued that the industry mogul illicitly pocketed funds diverted from listed companies and evaded paying tax. He further was accused of creating shell companies in foreign countries to avoid paying tax, prosecutors said.

Lee, who has undergone a kidney transplant, claims that he suffers from multiple illnesses such as Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and a kidney disease.

Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease is an inherited neurological disease characterized by the slowly progressive degeneration of muscles in the feet, lower legs and hands.