SEOUL -- The Samsung group's de facto leader stepped into the public eye for the first time in five months on Monday, inaugurating a mobile phone factory in India along with South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong, convicted of corruption charges last August, was given a suspended sentence in February and released from prison. But he has since kept a low profile.
Lee appeared to send a signal that he was ready to take the helm and guide the conglomerate through a critical time. Samsung said Friday that operating profit for the April-June quarter likely grew only 5% year on year. With its mainstay semiconductor memory business struggling, the company appears to be approaching a growth plateau.
The christening marked the completion of a plant, which doubles Samsung's output capacity for smartphones and other handsets in India to about 10 million per month. The factory is part of the company's existing compound in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, close to New Delhi.
Samsung invited Moon as well as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the celebration.
It was the first time Moon, who is visiting India and Singapore this week with Lee and other businesspeople, set foot in a Samsung facility since he took office in May 2017. The president -- who has vowed to reform family-owned conglomerates, or chaebol, like Samsung -- appears to be trying to address criticism at home over his administration's frosty relationship with the business sector.
The event gave Lee an opportunity to both emphasize closer ties with the Moon administration and to position India as a key market.
Samsung is one of the biggest foreign corporate presences in India after automaker Maruti Suzuki India, which is majority owned by Japan's Suzuki Motor. Lee got the green light to start building the phone factory in a 2016 meeting with Modi.
Initial plans to have the Uttar Pradesh facility add production capacity for refrigerators, another product made there, have been shelved.
The vice chairman has been transitioning toward leadership of the group since his father, Chairman Lee Kun-hee, was hospitalized several years ago.
The younger Lee is still awaiting trial in South Korea's highest court on charges of corruption and bribery related to South Korea's ousted ex-President Park Geun-hye and people in her inner circle. After his release from jail in February, Lee went on a solo tour of Europe, the U.S. and greater Asia, rebuilding connections with business executives while avoiding Samsung events.