Lee Jae-yong, the vice chief of tech giant Samsung Electronics Co., has made a business trip to Europe, company officials said Sunday, embarking on his first official activity since being released from prison in February.
Lee’s resumption of business activity as Samsung’s de facto head comes 45 days after he was freed on suspended sentence after spending nearly a year in jail over bribery and other charges linked to a corruption scandal that led to the ousting of former President Park Geun-hye last year.
“Lee has left for Europe to seek to secure a new engine for growth and meet with global business partners,” the company said.
Lee, 50, departed for Europe on Thursday when Samsung celebrated its 80th anniversary in a low-key manner.
South Korea’s top business group has been facing setbacks, with its chairman, Lee Kun-hee, unable to run the company due to ill health and his heir in jail over the scandal.
Industry watchers said that Lee’s overseas trip appears to be aimed at exploring large-scale mergers and acquisitions that had been suspended due to his imprisonment, as well as finding a new source for revenues.
A lower court earlier handed Lee a five-year jail term for giving 8.8 billion won (US$8.2 million) in bribes to Park and her confidante, Choi Soon-sil, in return for government backing of the merger of two key Samsung units, a process that was deemed vital in tightening his control of Samsung.
But an appellate court reduced this to 2 and 1/2 years in prison with a stay of execution for four years.
Jae-yong, the heir apparent to the Samsung empire, has been making aggressive moves for Samsung, including offloading defense affiliates to Hanwha Group and selling chemical assets to Lotte Group.
Instead, Samsung has sought to foster biotechnology and automobile components businesses.