Hunt begins for Yoos’ assets abroad

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Hunt begins for Yoos’ assets abroad


Police officers put up a wanted flyer showing Yoo Byung-eun, the de facto owner of the operator of the Sewol, in Jongno District, central Seoul. Prosecutors yesterday announced rewards of 80 million (U.S. Dollar 78,080) won for two fugitive suspects: Yoo and his oldest son. [NEWS1]

Investigators pursuing the family behind the company that owned the sunken ferry Sewol started tracking overseas properties held by the elusive older daughter and younger son of patriarch Yoo Byung-eun.

Second son Yoo Hyeok-gi is believed to live in the United States and Yoo Som-na, the oldest daughter, in Paris. They allegedly own upscale houses in New York, California and France.

If prosecutors prove that the son and daughter used illegally obtained money to purchase those assets, they will request U.S. and French law enforcement agencies to seize property and freeze bank accounts held by the son and daughter. Prosecutors sought arrest warrants for the two on charges of being involved in financial irregularities including embezzlement and tax evasion.

“As soon as the Incheon District Prosecutors’ Office finds that they have used illegally obtained assets to buy the buildings, we will ask for the seizure of the buildings and the freezing of their bank accounts,” said a source at the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office who refused to be identified.

The Ministry of Justice dispatched local investigators to discuss potential extradition. Yoo Som-na is in France on a temporary residence visa.

Local prosecutors are laying the groundwork for grabbing those assets by discussing judicial assistance with the French government.

The Supreme Prosecutors’ Office has also asked the U.S. Homeland Security Investigations directorate to track down real estate and deposits under the names of the siblings or affiliates of the family business.

Yoo Som-na is believed to own and live in a luxury apartment near Paris’s Champs-Elysees. The apartment is reportedly worth 2.5 billion won ($2.44 million).

Yoo Hyeok-gi and his wife Elizabeth Yoo allegedly own at least three apartments in Manhattan and near the Arc de Triomphe in Paris estimated to be worth around $6.2 million altogether.

Prosecutors are trying to hold the family liable for damages incurred by the ferry disaster, which left more than 300 passengers - mostly students - dead or still unaccounted for.

The government has used public funds to assist the families of the dead or missing and carry out rescue operations.

But it wants to charge expenses to the owners of the operator of the ferry, the Chonghaejin Marine Company, through an indemnity suit with President Park Geun-hye vowing to introduce a special law to facilitate the possible forfeitures.

The amount of compensation for families of the victims and the cost of recovering the ship is estimated to be between 400 billion won and 600 billion won.

When counting indirect damages, the figure could balloon up to 1 trillion won, lawyers specializing in marine disasters said.

Aside from the two siblings abroad, the family’s patriarch and his eldest son Yoo Dae-gyun also continue to evade arrest and are assumed to be in Korea.

A local district court yesterday issued arrest warrants for Yoo Byung-eun and police decided to offer an 80 million won reward for the two suspects - 50 million won for the elder Yoo and 30 million won for the younger.

Arrest warrants are usually valid for one week, but the warrant for the elder Yoo will last until July 22.

“Yoo is concluded to have fled, and there is a high probability that he may destroy evidence,” Judge Choi U-ho of the Incheon District Court said while issuing the warrant.

Yoo had earlier snubbed prosecution summons and failed to appear at a court hearing to review the validity of arrest warrants.

The elder Yoo and his son are charged with tax evasion, embezzlement and negligence of duty, and prosecutors allege that the misconduct of the owning family led to poor safety measures and unlawful business practices such as overloading and excessive remodeling that may have compromised the ship.

The amount of money that Yoo misappropriated from company funds or evaded in taxes is estimated to be 10 million won.


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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