Yoo’s money woman weighs her options in U.S.

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Yoo’s money woman weighs her options in U.S.

Prosecutors said yesterday it’s still unclear when Kim Hye-kyung, CEO of Korea Pharmaceuticals and alleged bagwoman for the patriarch of the family behind the Sewol ferry, Yoo Byung-eun, will be extradited to Korea from the United States.

Today is the sixth day since the businesswoman was arrested by the U.S. authorities for violating immigration laws and she remains mum on whether she wishes to return to Korea, where she’ll face intensive questioning.

“Whether Kim returns to the country in the coming days is totally up to her now,” said a prosecutor at the Incheon District Prosecutors’ Office, which is involved in the attempt to go after the hidden fortune of the late Yoo, whose family were the de facto owners of the ferry that sunk in April, killing more than 300.

Responding to news reports that the 52-year-old businesswoman was negotiating terms before she volunteered to return home, the prosecution yesterday refuted such claims.

“Neither did she express her willingness to turn herself in before the arrest nor has she told us since the arrest of her wish to return.”

Kim is suspected by authorities to have managed financial transactions, including illegal ones, by the late Yoo’s business groups. It’s believed that money that should have been spent on safety for ferries, including the Sewol, operated by Cheonghaejin Marine Company, was siphoned off into the late businessman’s pockets at the expense of the lives of over 300 passengers who died in the ferry sinking.

The alleged money handler was apprehended by U.S. Homeland Security Investigations agents on Sept. 4 in Virginia for violating immigration law by staying in the country with an expired visa.

Kim was in the U.S. visiting her two children studying in Virginia with a 90-day visa. But after Korean authorities’ started searching for her following the Sewol sinking, she tried to avoid arrest by staying there even after her visa expired.

At the time of Kim’s arrest, she was on the Korean prosecutors’ wanted list for her role as a behind-the-scenes manager of the Yoo family’s money. Prosecutors suspected her of involvement in illegal activities to siphon money out of Yoo’s companies, including the Sewol’s operator.

Authorities want to get to the bottom of various business malpractices, including alleged embezzlement by Yoo’s relatives, by questioning Kim.

But if Kim chooses to bring her case to a U.S. immigration court and fight extradition, it could take months for prosecutors to bring her back. But the U.S. court could deport her right away if she states a desire to return.

While prosecutors seek Kim’s extradition, Yoo’s first son Dae-gyun is now behind bars on charges of embezzlement. His trial began on Aug. 27.

His mother, Kwon Yun-ja, is also standing trial on the same charges.

The late patriarch’s second son, Hyuk-kee is still overseas while Som-na, the daughter of the deceased owner who was arrested in Paris in May, is fighting an extradition bid.

BY JUNG HYO-SIK, KANG JIN-KYU [jkkang2@joongang.co.kr]

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