Director of ferry probe removed over links to Semo Group

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Director of ferry probe removed over links to Semo Group


Lee Yong-wok

The director of the intelligence and investigation bureau of the Korean Coast Guard leading the probe into irregular practices of Chonghaejin Marine Company, the operator of the ill-fated Sewol ferry, was removed from his post yesterday after reports surfaced he had ties with the now-defunct Semo Group, the Chonghaejin Marine Company’s predecessor.

The Coast Guard announced on Wednesday that Lee, 53, had worked for Semo Group for eight years since 1991.

It added that he transferred there from another company after he started worshipping at the Evangelical Baptist Church, also known as the Salvation sect.

Yoo Byung-eun, the de facto owner of Chonghaejin, is reportedly the leader of the pseudo-Christian cult and currently stands accused of forcing members of the group to invest in companies run by him and his sons.

The elder Yoo and his family are currently accused of a slew of charges, including tax evasion, embezzlement, illicit foreign exchange deals and mismanagement.

KBS reported on April 23 that more than 90 percent of the operator’s workers subscribe to that religion, citing from a source who only identified himself as a “former employee.”

Prosecutors previously investigated Yoo in 1987 on suspicions that he was behind the mass suicide of 32 religious believers. At that time, he served as a minister of the cult.

“I washed my hands with the Salvation sect after moving to the Coast Guard,” Lee said yesterday in a press conference. He added he “didn’t hide [my] previous work experience at Semo Group” during his tenure at the Coast Guard.

Lee was accepted at the Coast Guard as chief superintendent in 1997, the same year Semo Group went bankrupt. He was promoted to assistant commissioner in 2011, and became the director of the intelligence and investigation bureau the following year.

Lee was reportedly reassigned to the international relations team yesterday morning following his removal.

According to the Coast Guard, during his affiliation with the company, the Semo Group funded Lee’s studies when he was working toward his doctoral degree at Pusan National University in Busan. In his doctoral dissertation, he even acknowledged his gratitude toward the elder Yoo, 73, Semo Group’s founder, expressing his sincere thanks for “giving [me] the opportunity to study.”

Lee pointed out at the briefing yesterday that he wrote those comments as a courtesy as a company employee.


Correction and rebuttal statement by the Evangelical Baptist Church

The Korea JoongAng Daily, regarding the reports since April 16, 2014, about the Evangelical Baptist Church (EBC) and Yoo Byung-eun, is publishing the following corrections and an excerpt from the rebuttal statement by the EBC.


Through three past investigations by the prosecution, it has been revealed that Yoo and the EBC, also known as the “Salvation Group” and Guwonpa in Korean, are not related to the Odaeyang mass suicide incident. That was also confirmed by the prosecution in its official statement on May 21. The prosecution’s investigation also found that Yoo had not made an attempt to smuggle himself out of the country or seek political asylum in France. We, therefore, correct the concerned reports.

Yoo retired from his executive management position in 1997. He did not own any shares in the noted companies, nor had he managed operations or used the operating funds for personal reasons. There are no grounds to call him the actual owner and chairman of the company. As such, he did not provide any directives in regards to the overloading of the Sewol ferry or its renovation.

It was verified that the captain and crew members who abandoned ship at the time of the Sewol ferry accident are not members of the EBC. It has also been verified that the EBC does not own any shares of Chonghaejin Marine Company and did not engage in its management.

Rebuttal statement

The EBC’s position is that the museums in the United States and Europe can never authorize an exhibition unless the artistic value of an artist’s works is recognized by the screening committee, irrespective of the amount of money an artist donates. The EBC’s position is that the exhibitions were not a result of Mr. Yoo’s patronage or donation, and Yoo also has not coerced Chonghaejin and its affiliates to purchase his photos.

The EBC states that Yoo did not participate in the foundation of the EBC in 1981, and the church does not offer him the title “pastor.” It also says a significant part of the 240 billion won ($206 million) worth of assets suspected of belonging to the Yoo family are real estate properties owned by the farming associations, which had been established by church members.

The EBC states that there are certain churches in Korea that call the EBC a cult, solely based on differences between their’s and the EBC’s doctrines.

But the EBC does not worship a particular individual as a religious sect leader or preach any doctrine that contradicts the Bible.

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