Lee Jae-yong heads off on excursion to Europe

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Lee Jae-yong heads off on excursion to Europe

Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong left on March 22 for his first overseas business trip since he was freed from jail on appeal in February. Lee is currently in Europe, though Samsung left the specifics of his itinerary a mystery.

The last time Lee, the de facto leader of Samsung, visited a foreign country was in September 2016. His trip to Europe, belatedly announced on Monday, is receiving particular attention, as he has maintained a low profile since his release.

Lee didn’t attend the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, Samsung executives’ meeting last week or the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, where the company unveiled the Galaxy S9 smartphone to middling reviews.

Samsung did not disclose Lee’s schedule or who he would meet with on the trip, saying only that the vice chairman will “secure new growth drivers and meet with global business partners.”

Lee is still facing a Supreme Court appeals trial, set for later this year, on his remaining bribery charges. He informed the country’s highest court about his trip through his attorneys, according to Samsung.

Attention is focused on when the Samsung leader will again revive his long-dormant global business connections. Overseas revenue makes up 87 percent of Samsung’s earnings.

Speculation has focused on whether Lee will meet with the management of Exor, the holding company of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. Lee was an independent board member of Exor but withdrew from the board after he was detained last year. In August 2016, Samsung was in talks with Fiat to acquire its auto component unit, Magneti Marelli.

Large-scale mergers and acquisitions by Samsung, which had been robust since 2014, were suspended ever since it acquired Harman International in November 2016 for about 9 trillion won ($8.3 billion).

During Lee’s absence, Samsung only bought four smaller firms, including Fluenty, a local start-up specializing in machine learning-based chatbots.

Analysts said that the vice chairman’s trip could signal the beginning of upcoming M&A deals in the fields of auto components, artificial intelligence and health care, growing fields that Samsung earlier pinpointed as its next growth drivers.

BY SEO JI-EUN [seo.jieun@joongang.co.kr]
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