Yoo directed Sewol remodeling, testimony says

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Yoo directed Sewol remodeling, testimony says

Prosecutors have obtained a testimony stating that Yoo Byung-eun, the patriarch of the family that allegedly controls the sunken Sewol ferry operator, was in charge of restructuring the 6,825-ton vessel, reported the JoongAng Ilbo, citing a senior prosecutor.

The joint investigation team of police and prosecutors confirmed last Thursday that the overloading and remodeling of the ship compromised its ability to maintain stability during the time of the accident.

Chonghaejin Marine Company, the operator, carried out the remodeling between October 2012 and February 2013 to increase the Sewol’s number of passenger cabins by dividing the fourth deck into two floors. In the process of adding another floor, Chonghaejin raised the deck’s height by 50 centimeters (19.7 inches).

Ahn Gi-hyeon, a detained employee of Chonghaejin who was in charge of the refurbishment, reportedly testified that he carried out the expansion under the direction of Yoo.

He said that the newly built fifth floor was mainly used as an exhibition hall for photographs shot by the 73-year-old, while the fourth floor was turned into passenger cabins.

Based on the testimony, prosecutors plan to hold Yoo vicariously liable for the acts of the operator’s crew members. Under the vicarious liability law, one can be held liable for the actions of subordinates and employees.

“Under the commercial law, a chief executive or president should be responsible for damages incurred by a company even if he or she is not directly related,” said a senior prosecutor who is involved in the current investigation into the ferry disaster.

So far, more than 10 crew members of the Sewol and high-ranking Chonghaejin officials have been charged with negligence of duty and violation of maritime law. The captain and three crew members who left the capsizing ship while telling passengers to stay put were indicted for homicide.

Prosecutors have had trouble proving Yoo’s involvement in Chonghaejin because he doesn’t hold an official position or shares. However, prosecutors managed to find evidence suggesting Yoo was he operator’s manager.

Earlier this month, prosecutors obtained an internal organization chart naming Yoo as president of the company after raiding the offices of Chonghaejin and its affiliates. They also found that Chonghaejin issued a company ID number for Yoo and discovered a pay stub that records a payment of 10 million won ($9,760) monthly over more than a year.

“Although Yoo is not a chief executive, we’ve concluded that he is the one who directs operation and execution of business based on evidence. In this case, he should bear the same responsibility as the chief executive,” said the source who refused to be identified because the investigation is ongoing.

Along with his alleged involvement, Yoo also faces corruption allegations, including tax evasion, embezzlement and illicit foreign trading.

Although the investigation is now a high-profile probe with mounting allegations, Yoo ignored a prosecution summons last week. In response, the prosecution requested a pretrial warrant to detain Yoo last Friday, saying that the 73-year-old could flee or destroy evidence. The prosecution ordered Yoo to appear today at the Incheon District Prosecutors’ Office for a trial to review the validity of the arrest warrants issued against him.

BY JEONG HYO-SIK, PARK EUN-JEE [ejpark@joongang.co.kr]

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