This photo taken on Jan. 18, 2021, shows Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong heading to a court room at Seoul High Court in Seoul for a bribery case. (Yonhap)
Lee Jae-yong, the de-facto leader of Samsung Group, has ended his mandatory isolation in a correctional facility and is allowed to meet group executives, industry insiders said Tuesday, raising speculation that South Korea's top conglomerate may speed up its decision-making for potential investments.
Lee, the group's heir, was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison by the Seoul High Court on Jan. 18 in a retrial of a bribery case involving former President Park Geun-hye and was put behind bars again.
Due to the country's COVID-19 regulations, Lee had to be isolated for four weeks in a cell at Seoul Detention Center in Uiwang, Gyeonggi Province.
During his mandatory quarantine, only legal visits were allowed to Lee. His lawyers had to speak with him via a hand-held jail phone in a room with glass partition.
But with Lee completing his mandatory quarantine on Monday and the country easing its COVID-19 social distancing level, his lawyers can now meet the Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman face-to-face in a visitation room with a better communication environment.
Lee will also be allowed to meet his family and company officials from Wednesday.
Industry insiders said Samsung executives are expected to make their visits and discuss investment plans with Lee in the near future.
The group's crown jewel, Samsung Electronics, is currently reviewing its investment plans on semiconductor business.
The world's largest memory chip and smartphone producer is currently building a new chip production line in Pyeongtaek, south of Seoul, and is mulling investments in the United States.
For its new chip plant project, the company reportedly is looking at multiple sites in the US, including Arizona, New York and Austin, Texas, where it already runs a foundry factory.
Samsung heirs have to pay massive inheritance taxes following the death of group chief Lee Kun-hee in October last year. They are estimated to pay more than 11 trillion won ($10 billion) in inheritance taxes for the late chief's stock assets worth around 19 trillion won.
Under related laws, they need to report and pay inheritance taxes by the end of April.
Lee will be freed in July 2022, unless he is granted a pardon or commutation.
Last month, Samsung Electronics said the company will actively use its cash to pursue M&A deals in the next three years.
The tech titan's last major M&A deal came in 2016 when it acquired US-based automotive giant Harman International Industries for $8 billion. (Yonhap)