[THE INVESTOR] Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong is coming back to management possibly this week to resume stalled merger and acquisition talks at the Korean tech giant, according to industry sources on April 9.
Samsung’s large-scale M&A deals have been almost put on hold since the heir’s imprisonment last year. The US$8 billion acquisition of US audio giant Harman International in 2016 was the last deal led by Lee.
Unlike earlier expectations that he could return to management immediately after being released from prison in February, he has remained low-key for almost a month. Then he departed for a business trip on March 22 when Samsung Group celebrated its 80th anniversary.
During the 16-day business trip, Lee reportedly visited Europe, Canada and Tokyo. Especially during his stay in Europe, Samsung announced a plan to set up an AI center in Paris and investment in an Israeli AI solution developer. On March 28, Samsung Chief Strategy Officer Young Sohn who oversees the firm’s overseas M&As held a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron on their extended partnership.
Despite high expectations about his return, some industry watchers say Lee is likely to maintain a low profile due to the ongoing corruption trials that led to the ousting of former President Park Geun-hye.
A Samsung official also said it is unlikely for Lee to make a public appearance for a while considering he is still facing a Supreme Court trial.
Lee was imprisoned in February last year for bribing the former president and her confidante Choi Soon-sil to facilitate his succession of power at the conglomerate. A lower court handed down a five-year jail term in August last year, but he was freed in February this year after receiving a suspended sentence.
A Supreme Court ruling is expected to be announced as early as August this year but it could be delayed to next year as Lee’s defense team is trying to push back the trial as much as possible until public interest toward the case subsides.
By Kim Young-won (firstname.lastname@example.org)