Family behind Sewol avoids questioning in case

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Family behind Sewol avoids questioning in case

The eldest son of the family behind the company that operated the sunken Sewol ferry yesterday ignored a prosecution summons over corruption allegations about his family.

Incheon District Prosecutors’ Office scheduled Yoo Dae-gyun, the first son of family patriarch Yoo Byung-eun, to appear at the Incheon office by 10 a.m. yesterday, but he didn’t show up. Prosecutors plan to send a second invitation for questioning.

Both the son and his father face accusations that include embezzlement and tax evasion, though the prosecution has yet to summon the elder Yoo, who is widely considered the master of the family businesses.

Local media reported that the elder Yoo will be summoned as early as this week.

The 44-year-old son is a major shareholder of I-One-I Holdings, a holding company of the beleaguered operator of the Sewol, Chonghaejin Marine Company, and two other affiliates: Dapanda and Trigon Korea.

Authorities allege that the son illegally pocketed tens of billions of won in company funds by charging bogus consultation fees to affiliates operated by the family.

The junior Yoo is also accused of setting up a shell company in order to facilitate or conceal financial irregularities committed by the elder Yoo.

Prosecutors are trying to verify the company structure and the use of company funds as part of a probe into whether the owner is responsible for the poor safety management, including overloading of the Sewol, which may have contributed to the maritime disaster. The disaster killed 275 people and 29 are still missing.

Also evading the prosecution are second son Hyeok-gi and eldest daughter Som-na, who currently lives abroad. Prosecutors requested them to appear for questioning several times, but they didn’t comply.

Investigators said they are in the process of asking for help from U.S. investigation agencies including the FBI and Homeland Security Investigations to question Yoo’s second son.

As a major shareholder of Chonghaejin Marine, the second son is suspected of keeping and managing secret funds in overseas accounts.

Two close aides are also abroad, allegedly to avoid prosecution summons. Kim Hye-Kyung, the head of a pharmaceutical affiliate, and Kim Pil-bae, the president of a publishing company, all disobeyed invitations to come for questioning.

As part of the probe, prosecutors also arrested two officials of a safety inspection agency for allegedly faking the report of a safety inspection of the doomed ferry. At the time of the accident, only one of the Sewol’s 40 life rafts functioned properly, but the inspection said that the conditions of the ferry’s life rafts was “good.”

A joint team of police and prosecutors investigating the cause of the disaster suggested they will look into the handling of the rescue by the Coast Guard.

The Coast Guard is being criticized for wasting precious minutes on the day of the capsizing before the ferry completely capsized.

Coast Guard officials are believed to have saved only the people on the outside of the ferry or floating in the water. They failed to get inside the ferry, where most of the passengers were ordered to stay put by crew members.

The marine police are also accused of preventing Navy divers from searching for survivors for 15 hours so a private rescue company could have the first chance at saving the people.

“We said that we are determined to get to the bottom of the cause of the ferry disaster and the rescue,” said a chief prosecutor of the Mokpo District Prosecutors’ Office. “So, now [prosecutors] are looking into the case and whether the Coast Guard failed to properly respond.”


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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