The chairman of South Korea’s third largest conglomerate, SK Group, was sentenced to four years in prison for embezzlement on Thursday.

Chey Tae-Won, 53, had been found guilty of embezzling almost $50 million of company funds for personal investments in 2008, and was given the tough sentence on Thursday in a country where convicted business conglomerates are often given lenient treatment due to their apparent contribution to the national economy, reports AFP.

Chey denied the crime and said he would appeal the verdict, according to Yonhap News Agency.

The SK Group boss, who was involved in energy and telecom industries, was sentenced to three years for accounting fraud in 2003 but was suspended after he had served six months in prison. He was granted a full presidential pardon in 2008.

South Korean tycoons, or the heads of chaebols, have before been convicted for crimes including tax evasions and embezzlement, but most are given lenient sentences or pardoned in recognition of the importance of family-run business conglomerates to the national economy, such as creating jobs.

Outgoing president Lee Myung-bak ruled out chaebol leaders from pardons earlier this week following criticism that he favoured large businesses under his administration.

President-elect Park Geun-hye, who assumes office next month, has vowed to crackdown on corporate malpractice as per of her campaign for “economic democratization”.