Today, they are widely seen as sources of corruption and impediments to the country's progress. Samsung accounts for about one fifth of the nation's exports.
He was detained in February following charges that he bribed former South Korean president Park Geun-hye, with the goal of securing control of the conglomerate that owns Samsung Electronics. "The people expect that the power of a president, the top authority under the constitution, will be used to serve all people and that big businesses act with social responsibility, through legal economic activities".
Lee was also found guilty of perjury and other offences.
The sentence handed down to Lee will also play a part in Park's trial, with Park likely to face a prison sentence herself.
A Seoul Central District Court judge delivering its ruling on bribery and other charges after a six-month trial in a scandal that triggered Park's impeachment and ouster, also found Lee guilty of hiding assets overseas and perjury. Samsung will appeal the ruling immediately, Song Woo-cheol, a Samsung attorney, told reporters. The panel's judgement was that the over 8 billion won (about U.S. $7.1 million) given under the pretext of "confidential" support for the two causes was because the two parties had an implicit understanding that Vice Chairman Lee would succeed Samsung Group Chairman Lee Keun-hee, who was ill at the time, as the head of operations at Samsung.
The ruling in Lee's case can be appealed twice.
This time could be different.
"I think that Lee's sentence will be reduced at the High Court". Lee's succession over Samsung. Lee has two sisters, but neither has been heavily involved in Samsung Electronics, which is widely regarded as the center of the Samsung empire.
"South Korea needs to keep him in jail", he said of Lee. But Lee, vice chairman at Samsung Electronics and the Samsung founder's grandson, claimed innocence during the court hearing.More news: Thousands unable to access Facebook after unexplained outage
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Samsung made no comments on the sentence, but Lee's lawyers said they are appealing. Given this, many have observed that it won't be hard to find that there were strings attached to the money.
Lee, 49, was accused of offering $38m in bribes to four entities controlled by Choi Soon-sil, a friend of Park.
Over the past six months, the arrest and trial of Lee have rocked South Korea.
Samsung Electronics Chief Executive Kwon Oh-hyun asked employees to rally around the company.
As Choi's star came crashing down, so did that of her sponsor, South Korea's first female president.
But as GDP growth has slowed, public frustration with the chaebols has mounted. The revenue of the 10 largest chaebols is more than 80 percent of South Korea's gross domestic product.
As global tech giants are aggressively making investments to take the lead in the artificial intelligence, Internet-of-Things and virtual reality industries, industry watchers said the prolonged absence in Samsung's leadership may cause the company to fall behind the competition.
Even so, it is not clear whether the victory will galvanize broader anti-graft efforts. "But it will face consistent calls from business lobbies to pardon Lee Jae-yong".