File photo of Samsung heir Lee Jae-yong.
Samsung heir Lee Jae-yong was freed on Monday after a South Korean appeals court gave him a 2 ½-year suspended jail sentence for corruption in connection with a scandal that topped the country's president.
The ruling clears the way for the Samsung vice-chairman to resume his role at the helm of the industrial giant founded by his grandfather after a year in prison.
In a surprise decision, the Seoul High Court softened the original ruling against Lee, rejecting most of the bribery charges leveled against Lee by prosecutors who sought a 12-year prison term.
"The past year was a precious time for personal reflection," Lee told reporters waiting outside the gates of a detention center in southern Seoul.
Lee's first stop from the prison was a Samsung hospital where his father has been hospitalized since he suffered a heart attack in 2014.
Lee was charged with offering million in bribes to former President Park Geunhye and her confidant Choi Soon-sil, embezzling Samsung funds, hiding assets overseas, concealing proceeds from criminal activities and perjury.
The appeals court said Lee was unable to reject the then-president's request to financially support her confidante and was coerced into making the payments.
The court still found Lee guilty of giving 3.6 billion won (.3 million) in bribes for equestrian training of Choi's daughter and of embezzling the money from Samsung funds.
Lee's lawyer, Lee In-jae, told reporters outside the court that while he respects the court's courage and wisdom, Lee still plans to appeal his conviction.
Prosecutors also were expected to appeal, making it almost certain the case will go to the Supreme Court, the final court of appeal in South Korea.
The ruling surprised many who were expecting a tough stance from the appeals court and South Koreans took to social media and online news portals to voice their anger.
President Moon Jae-in's ruling Democratic Party expressed its strong regret over the decision, claiming South Koreans will be reminded of a saying that a rich person is innocent while a poor person is guilty.
The main opposition Liberty Korea Party, which former President Park was affiliated with before her impeachment, and the big business circle welcomed Lee's release from prison.
Liberal civic group activists denounced the ruling as being lenient to the family members of conglomerates, while conservative activists saw it as a reasonable verdict.