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Lotte chairman freed as court suspends corruption sentence

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A Seoul appeals court released Lotte Group chairman Shin Dong-bin from jail after suspending a bribery and embezzlement sentence that had created a leadership vacuum atop the South Korean retail giant for almost eight months.

[SEOUL] A Seoul appeals court released Lotte Group chairman Shin Dong-bin from jail after suspending a bribery and embezzlement sentence that had created a leadership vacuum atop the South Korean retail giant for almost eight months.

The Seoul High Court on Friday said the 30-month sentence was suspended for four years. Shin had been convicted following a series of probes into the retail-to-chemicals giant, including a bribery investigation that lead to the departure of former President Park Geun-hye.

The suspension follows a court decision earlier this year to release Samsung Electronics vice-chairman Jay Y Lee, heir apparent to the country's biggest conglomerate, after convicting him on white collar crime charges, including bribing Park. South Korea's family-run conglomerates have faced rising pressure from a government that has vowed to weed out corruption at the groups and support minority shareholder rights.

Lotte will work to become a company committed to social responsibility and devoted to the national economy, Lotte Corp said in a statement following the decision on Friday.

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A series of government probes into corruption allegations against Lotte executives led to convictions including the group's founder Shin Kyuk-ho and his younger son Shin Dong-bin. Elder brother Shin Dong-joo was acquitted.

Lotte Group, which had about US$100 billion of assets as of 2017, had been under investigation since 2015 when a family feud over control erupted into public view. Amid the rivalry between Shin Dong-bin and Shin Dong-joo, allegations of bribery and other corruption emerged, sparking the probe.

The intensifying regulatory scrutiny and investigations have stymied the company's global expansion, leading to cancellations of a potential US$4.5 billion IPO of a hotel unit and a bid for chemicals-maker Axiall Corp in 2016.

Shin Dong-bin became the largest individual shareholder of the group's main holding company Lotte Corp, with a 10.5 per cent stake, after a sweeping reorganization last year that helped consolidate his control by sidelining his older brother.

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