One of South Korea's most powerful businessmen, and the man who headed up the Samsung electronics empire, has been charged with tax evasion.

Former Samsung chief Lee Kun-hee was given a 3-year suspended jail sentence, as well as being fined 110 billion won ($109 million).

Reuters says that this is more than double the amount of taxes he evaded.

However Kun-hee was cleared of other charges, which included breach of trust and illegal issuance of bonds aimed at transferring wealth to his children.

And he will not spend any time in jail.

"We ruled against an actual jail sentence as the degree of illegality was not significant enough", Judge Min Byong-hoon said.

South Korean prosecutors had sought a 7-year jail term and a 350 billion won fine for Lee, who led the country's biggest conglomerate for nearly 20 years.

"I am sorry", Lee told reporters as he left the courthouse.

When asked whether he was relieved at the verdict, he said: "I have to continue to feel responsible".