Sewol suspects’ assets to be seized

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Sewol suspects’ assets to be seized

The government on June 20 requested the provisional seizure of assets owned by the people allegedly responsible for the Sewol ferry accident in order to reimburse a 403.1 billion won ($397.5 million) expenditure in handling the crisis.

The ship’s sinking on April 16 in the waters off Korea’s southwestern coast left nearly 300 passengers dead, mostly high school students on a class trip to Jeju Island.

Those named in the applications are Yoo Byung-eun, the de facto owner of the ferry, his family members, the ship’s crew members and officials from the Chonghaejin Marine Company, the Sewol’s operator.

Once the Seoul Central District Court accepts the application, those assets cannot be sold.

As a preliminary measure, officials will hold the collected assets until trials begin in the Sewol ferry case. If the suspects are ruled to be responsible for the accident, those assets will be used to compensate the expenses accrued in the management of the disaster.

Necessary reimbursement costs may be much higher. The government estimated the salvage of the ship to be only about 100 billion won, while maritime experts anticipate it would be around 300 to 400 billion won.

However, authorities face an uphill battle in collecting the funds because of complicated legal processes, and have secured about 200 billion won so far.

Although the assets of Yoo and his affiliates are believed to total more than 400 billion won, they are known to be liable for 374.7 billion won. The Evangelical Baptist Church that Yoo co-founded in 1960s also mortgaged its assets for tens of billions of won.

It is another problem for the government whether the reimbursement comes prior to the liabilities and collateral securities.

Prosecutors are also preparing evidence to prove that Yoo personally managed his affiliates and owns the assets of the religious sect - better known as Guwonpa, or the Salvation Sect - under fake names.

The prosecution currently has in its possession video footage of a lecture Yoo delivered to the sect’s believers in April 2010 at a hotel in Seoul.

In the lecture, Yoo admitted, “I have bought several mountains. I could not buy [the property] under my name, so I legally registered the mountains [under fake names].”

Authorities also suspect that Yoo gave an 8,900,000-square-meter (890-hectare) estate belonging to one of the sect’s farming companies to his youngest son, Yoo Hyeok-gi, after he wed.

The prosecution and police have yet to find Yoo and have only arrested some of his aides so far.

“To increase the amount of the reimbursement, we will trace not only his overseas assets, but also the assets he and his family embezzled under fake names,” a prosecutor said.

BY JUNG HYO-SIK AND NOH JIN-HO [bongmoon@joongang.co.kr]




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