Decor gives peek into ferry family’s high life

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Decor gives peek into ferry family’s high life

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Antiques fill the Monte Cristo in Yeoksam-dong, southern Seoul, owned by Yoo Dae-gyun, 44, son of Yoo Byung-eun. Photo taken in 2012. [JoongAng Photo]

A look inside the posh restaurant Monte Cristo in the affluent section of Yeoksam-dong in southern Seoul reveals a number of sculptures and paintings, all imported from Europe. It feels more like a museum than a restaurant with duplicates of Michelangelo’s “Slaves” and his “Tomb of Giuliano de’ Medici” on display when the JoongAng Ilbo visited on Thursday.

The richly decorated restaurant is co-owned by Yoo Dae-gyun, 44, the first son of the sketchy and highly mysterious businessman Yoo Byung-eun, the de facto owner of Chonghaejin Marine, the company that operated the sunken ferry Sewol. Yoo’s two sons are registered as the majority owners of Chonghaejin and its holding company.

Another businessman named Kim Chan-sik, 59, co-owns the Monte Cristo. Kim serves as a board member of the companies owned by the Yoo family.

Prosecutors looking into the business practices of the Yoo family have pointed to the restaurant as providing a glimpse into the family’s extravagant lifestyle. The restaurant featured a grand piano and a pipe organ, both shipped from Britain. A sculpture and painted portrait of the 44-year-old son Dae-gyun were also seen.

The restaurant is also a place where high-ranking officials of Chonghaejin’s affiliates and the Yoo family gathered. According to the JoongAng Ilbo, high-profile political, social and entertainment figures were guests at parties hosted by the first son at the Monte Cristo. They bragged about their conspicuous consumption overseas at the parties.

“Yoo [the first son] bought a whole country village in Canada and did its landscape design by driving around in a fork truck,” a frequent party guest who didn’t want to be identified told the JoongAng Ilbo.

Yoo’s second son, Hyeok-gi, is also known for enjoying an extravagant lifestyle. Hyeok-gi, who owns a branch of the premium chocolate store Debauve & Gallais in New York, has a residence that is 40,000 square meters (9.8 acres) in New York, worth nearly $20 million.

Prosecutors are now digging into the wealth of the Yoos to see if shady practices that doomed the Sewol account for the riches.

Following raids on April 23, prosecutors revealed that patriarch Yoo and his two sons, who are in charge of running and overseeing the ferry operator, allegedly registered their companies’ trademarks and charged royalty payments to Chonghaejin and its subsidiaries for using the names.

Because of its distressed finances, the operator is suspected of pursuing maximum profitability at the expense of passengers’ safety by overloading freight and redesigning the ferry to accommodate as many passengers as possible.

BY LEE SEO-JUN, KANG JIN-KYU [jkkang2@joongang.co.kr]


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.

Correction

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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