On Friday a court in Seoul found Shin Dong-bin the Chairman of the Lotte Group guilty of embezzlement and breach of trust and promptly gave him a prison sentence of 20 months, that was suspended for two years, which leaves him free to revive the conglomerate after heavy losses across China.
The executive was cleared by the Seoul court on some of the breach of trust counts as well as one of the embezzlement charges.
Shin said while leaving the court on Friday that he apologized to the public, but would not comment any further.
Seoul prosecutors were seeking a jail term of ten years for Shin for breach of trust and embezzlement after more than yearlong probe into the group.
The court ruling comes as a big relief to Lotte following a tough year in which it became the biggest corporate victim of a spat between Beijing and Seoul over the installation by South Korea of a missile defense system from the U.S.
Lotte, the fifth-largest South Korea conglomerate said it respected the decision by the court. Executives as well as employees at Lotte Group will unite further to contribute to progress in the economy and do the best possible to meet social responsibility, said a statement released by the company.
No comment was released by the prosecution following the ruling. Legal experts expected an appeal by the prosecution.
Shin is also involved in another current trial that is over a bribery scandal that cost Park Guen-hye the presidency. Prosecutors are seeking a jail term of four years and a $6.49 million fine.
At the same time, the ruling on Friday means that Lotte, with more than 110 trillion won of assets, will avoid a vacuum of leadership for now, as it tries to navigate the mounting losses in China and a recovery that is uncertain.
Shunned across China, its most important market, after it was pressured by Seoul to provide land for a THAAD missile defense system, third quarter Lotte sales were almost completely lost falling from $268 million to only $278,000 in one year.
Close to all of the Lotte Mart stores located in China have been shuttered for most of 2017, with local authorities citing issues with fire safety, and the conglomerate has put the business on the market.
However, any sales will likely be delayed until sometime in 2018 after a deadline sought by Lotte said one of its spokespersons.