Founder, Former Chairman of Daewoo Sentenced to 8 1/2 Years in Prison

A Seoul appeals court on Friday sentenced the founder and former chairman of collapsed conglomerate Daewoo to eight and a half years in prison on a range of charges including embezzlement and accounting fraud.

The Seoul High Court said it also ordered Kim Woo-choong to forfeit 18 trillion won ($19 billion) and pay a fine of 10 million won ($10,700).

The sentence was less severe than a lower-court ruling in May, when he was sentenced to 10 years in prison and was ordered to forfeit more than 21 trillion won ($22 billion).

The court reduced the sentence in consideration of Kim's contribution to South Korea's economic development and because many South Koreans "still remember him as a respectable entrepreneur who raised the country's status," judge Suk Ho-chul said in the ruling.

Kim was indicted in June last year on charges of multi-trillion won (multibillion dollar) accounting fraud, illegal financing and diverting funds out of the country. He was also accused of embezzlement and breach of trust.

Kim was found guilty of the charges, including over 20 trillion won in accounting fraud, 9.8 trillion won worth of illegal financing, and diverting 19 trillion won out of the country, according to the ruling. He was also found to have embezzled $100 million.

Kim fled the country in 1999, living mostly in France, until returning to South Korea last June to face charges.

Kim started as a textile salesman in 1967, building an empire that came to stand among the largest conglomerates, or "chaebol," in South Korea.

Daewoo collapsed under massive debts in the wake of the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis, when the South Korean government was forced to accept a $58 billion International Monetary Fund bailout.

Parts of Daewoo were broken up and sold, with Detroit-based General Motors Corp. (GM)acquiring a major stake in Daewoo Motor to create GM Daewoo in 2002.