Samsung Group's de facto leader and vice chairman, Lee Jae-yong (aka, Jay Y. Lee), was sentenced to five years in prison after being found guilty of bribery, embezzlement, capital flight, and perjury charges.
Lee had reportedly appealed his sentence, which the court reduced by half to two and a half years on Monday.
Lee was also "cleared of hiding assets overseas, a charge that could carry the heaviest punishment - a minimum five-year sentence - among the five charges", Yonhap says. In December 2009, the elder Lee, who had chaired the country's Olympic committee, was pardoned after being convicted for tax evasion, in order to help with lobbying efforts for the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics.
Park had denied allegations that she conspired with Choi to extort money and favors from South Korean companies.
Samsung posted record earnings during Lee's imprisonment thanks to its memory chip business, though it faces intense challenges from Chinese competitors. In its decision on Lee's appeal, the court vacated or diminished some charges. Moreover, Samsung's stock price has hit all-times highs during Lee's time in jail. Prosecutors originally sought a dozen years for Lee, arguing that would help establish the rule of law in a country re-examining ties between government and business. The decision set Lee free following a yearlong detention amidst a corruption scandal, which brought the former president down.
The minor progressive Justice Party said the high court adhered to the saying that a rich person is innocent, noting that the ruling will be acceptable to nobody in South Korea. Lee is not just another corrupt businessman but the third generation heir of the Samsung Empire, making him one of the most powerful individuals in South Korea.
"We have a new president in office, but the "Republic of Samsung" lives on", said Kwon Young-june, a professor who researches corporate governance at Seoul's Kyung Hee University.
"They even have a term for it here, called jail management".
Many South Koreans were expecting a tough stance from the appeals court and took to social media and online news portals to vent their anger at the ruling and the judge who issued the verdict.
Park Geun-hye has been detained since her arrest in March 2017 while Choi and many of Park's ex-cabinet members and allies are also in jail. Another circus trial has concluded as most believed it would.