Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong left a South Korean jail a free man on Monday after judges suspended his sentence.
The ruling reignited a public debate over widespread corruption in a case that ousted President Park Geun-hye from office last year and has ensnared leading members of the family-run "chaebol" conglomerates.
Seoul High Court sentenced Lee to two and a half years in jail on charges including bribery and embezzlement - reducing the original term by half - but suspended the sentence for four years, meaning that he is unlikely to serve any more time in jail.
Lee, 50, was arrested on Feb. 17, 2017 on five charges, including bribery, embezzlement and hiding assets overseas.
A lower court sentenced him to five years in prison, on Aug. 25, for giving 8.8 billion won (US$8.1 million) in bribes to Park and her confidante, Choi Soon-sil, in return for government backing of the merger of two key Samsung units, a process that was deemed vital to tighten Lee's control of South Korea's biggest conglomerate. The prosecution had demanded 12 years in prison for Lee.
On Monday, Lee was cleared of hiding assets overseas, a charge that could carry the heaviest punishment -- a minimum five-year sentence -- among the five charges.
The court found that Samsung sent the money overseas as kickbacks, not for the purpose of concealing it.
The court did not accept the prosecution's claim that Samsung offered bribes in return for government support for his scheme to inherit group control from his ailing father.
"The past year has been a really valuable time of looking back on myself," Lee told reporters. He added he needed to visit his ailing father, Samsung Group patriarch Lee Kun-hee, who suffered a heart attack in 2014.