By Joyce Lee

SEOUL (Reuters) – Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Jay Y. Lee has been excused from attending an accounting fraud trial hearing on Friday, a court spokesperson said, as he is expected to host the U.S. President’s tour of a semiconductor plant in South Korea.

Although the defendant’s attendance is required as a rule to ensure his right to defend, the Seoul Central District Court granted Lee’s request to not attend as witnesses’ testimony can be recorded and the defendant notified, the spokesperson said.

Lee is expected to be accompanying U.S. President Joe Biden during his tour of the world’s largest semiconductor plant located in the city of Pyeongtaek about 50 km (30 miles) from Seoul, South Korean media have said.

It is expected to be Biden’s first stop during the South Korean leg of his first Asian trip as U.S. president.

It would be Lee’s highest-profile public appearance since he was released on parole in August last year from a bribery conviction.

Lee’s absence from court is a rare occurrence. For over a year, he has attended all hearings of a separate trial related to the $8 billion merger of two Samsung firms in 2015, court records showed.

In 2020, prosecutors accused Lee of stock-price manipulation and accounting fraud related to the merger. Lee has denied the accusations.

Since Lee was freed on parole, Samsung has made major moves such as choosing Taylor, Texas as the U.S. location of its new $17 billion chip plant, merging its mobile and consumer electronics divisions and naming new co-chief executives in its biggest reshuffle since 2017.

(Reporting by Joyce Lee; Editing by Himani Sarkar)