Samsung chairman resigns, apologises

Samsung Group chairman Lee Kun-hee was stepping down after 20 years as chief of South Korea's biggest conglomerate in the aftermath of his indictment on tax evasion and other charges, an Associated Press report said.

The report said the move, announced to reporters by Lee himself, was both welcomed as a possible sign of more openness at the troubled business group, but also as a cause for worry that Lee's absence may harm South Korea's economy.

The 66-year-old Lee, with about 30 Samsung executives standing nearby, apologised for 'troubles to the nation' over an independent counsel investigation into the conglomerate's operations that resulted in the indictment of himself and other Samsung executives last week, the Associated Press report said.

Until recent weeks, South Koreans were unaccustomed to hearing much publicly from Lee, who has been described as a loner with a fascination for gadgets and how they work, the report said.

During the independent counsel investigation, however, Lee spoke to reporters after undergoing hours of questioning twice in a week, and even hinted he might resign, the report added.

Lee took over the reins of Samsung two decades ago following the death of his father, the conglomerate's founder. He is one of South Korea's richest people, is widely regarded as its most influential business executive and serves on the International Olympic Committee.

Samsung Electronics, its flagship corporation, is a world leader in computer chips, flat-screen TVs and mobile phones. Lee is widely seen as the driving force behind its rise into a global technology force.

Special prosecutors Thursday indicted Lee on charges of evading 112.8 billion won ($113 million; €71 million) in taxes, ending a three month probe in the family-run conglomerate prompted by allegations of wrongdoing by a former Samsung lawyer, the report said.