France moves to call off event with Yoo’s work

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France moves to call off event with Yoo’s work

The French Foreign Ministry has called to scrap a cultural event in northern France that features photography by Yoo Byung-eun, the fugitive de facto owner of the sunken Sewol ferry.

Yoo had reportedly funded some 10,000 euros ($13,582) for the “Festival of Forests” musical gala event, which included his solo photography exhibition that was scheduled to open Friday in Compiegne, northern France, French media reported.

In the art community, Yoo, the 73-year-old patriarch of the family behind the Chonghaejin Marine Company under which the Sewol operated, has promoted himself as a photographer under the name Ahae and held exhibitions in countries including France, Italy, Russia and the United States.

Laurent Fabius, the French minister of foreign affairs and international development, intervened, sending a letter to the festival’s organizers on June 30 urging them to cancel the event, “out of sensitivity and respect for the Korean people in mourning, especially the families of the young victims,” Agence France-Presse and French media reported.

Yoo is on Korea’s most wanted list for his alleged role in mismanaging the company that operated the Sewol ferry, which capsized on April 16 and has left more than 300 people dead or missing, most of them students.

This is not the first warning the French government has given to the organizers.

Fabius pointed out to festival organizers that a warning had already been issued by the office of Aurelie Filippetti, the minister of culture and communication.

He continued in his letter, “My role as the minister of foreign affairs of France is to alert you to the message that you send to Korea [in following through with the event], as the initial context of the project has changed.”

“Whatever the artistic value of the work,” he added, carrying through with the exhibit is a “provocation and an insult to the victims.”

He added that he hoped the festival’s organizers would “be sensitive to this information.”

Yoo and his family are known to have connections with prominent French artists, collectors and museum officials through his own photography exhibitions and other artistic endeavors and donations.

Since 2009, working as Ahae, Yoo has taken more than 2 million photographs through the same window of an atelier in his residence in Geumsuwon in Anseong, Gyeonggi, for his collection entitled “Through My Window.”

The location is also the headquarters of the Evangelical Baptist Church, the sect co-founded in the 1960s by Yoo and his father-in-law that is better known as Guwonpa, or the Salvation Sect.

The Palace of Versailles also exhibited Ahae’s photography last year and reportedly received donations from Yoo.

The Incheon District Prosecutors’ Office has paid close attention to the allegedly exorbitant prices - hundreds of millions of won - for which Ahae’s photographs have been sold. Nine of Yoo’s close aides are currently standing trial.

His daughter, Yoo Som-na, was living in France before she was arrested there in May. The results of extradition proceedings are pending.


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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