Samsung Electronics Co Ltd Vice Chairman Jay Y. Lee on Thursday made his first public appearance since being jailed in January, as he attended court to face charges of fraud and stock manipulation amid calls for his release.
The 52-year-old head of the world's biggest memory chip maker wore a dark suit and white shirt as he entered the courtroom for the hearing, media reported. The heir to one of South Korea's most powerful family-run business empires is accused of fraud and stock manipulation and could face a fresh jail term if convicted.
Pressure is mounting on the government to pardon Lee for a previous conviction of bribery and other offenses, for which he has served half of a 30-month sentence.
Business lobby groups and some lawmakers say he should be freed to help South Korea secure supplies of coronavirus vaccines.
"Utilizing Vice Chairman Lee's global network will help in securing the Covid-19 vaccine," Kwon Tae-shin, vice chairman of the Federation of Korean Industries, told Reuters. A conservative opposition member of parliament, Park Jin, told Reuters South Korean investment in semiconductor production in the United States also could be leveraged to secure US vaccines.
Samsung is considering building a $17b chip factory in the United States, while Seoul has noted its potential role in helping US President Joe Biden preserve the global chip supply chain.
The United States has said its first priority is vaccinating Americans, although it has promised to look into options to help other countries bolster their supplies.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in is due to visit Washington for a summit with Biden next month.
South Korea has reported 116,661 coronavirus cases and 1,808 deaths from Covid-19, but just 3 per cent of the population has been vaccinated due to problems with vaccine supplies.