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SEWOL DISASTER: Ferry firm owner gets prosecutors’ summons

Publication Date : 14-05-2014


Sunken Sewol’s de facto owner Yoo Byung-eon has been summoned for questioning as investigators seek to take three of his kin into custody.

On Tuesday, the Incheon District Prosecutors’ Office issued Yoo with a summons to appear for questioning Friday over a string of alleged wrongdoings committed by him, family members and close associates.

Yoo and his associates are suspected of embezzlement, tax evasion and other crimes. In addition, Yoo is thought to have been directly involved in running Sewol’s operator Chonghaejin Marine Co.

Since the case broke out, all of Yoo’s children and a number of key suspects ignored the summons to appear for questioning.

On Tuesday, the authorities attempted to take his eldest son Yoo Dae-gyun into custody. However, the authorities appeared to be unaware of his whereabouts, with his Seoul home appearing empty.

His brother Yoo Hyeok-gi and sister Yoo Sum-na, who are also key suspects in the case, are currently in the US, and the local authorities are seeking their extradition.

As investigations stemming from the disaster ― which has left more than 300 people missing or dead ― expand, the Coast Guard has also come under scrutiny for its initial response. The Board of Audit and Inspection is to examine the Coast Guard’s overall response to the accident.

In addition, prosecutors are said to be considering indicting Coast Guard officials on charges of accidental homicide as well as dereliction of duty.

Meanwhile, financial regulators are investigating several financial firms as part of their widening probe into corruption allegations against the owner and operators of the Sewol.

The National Federation of Fisheries Cooperatives, also known as Suhyup, had extended some 6.5 billion won (US$6.3 million) in loans in 2012 to an affiliate arm of Chonghaejin Marine, the operator of the sunken ferry Sewol, according to the Financial Supervisory Service.

The financial authority launched a special inspection into the NFFC on Friday.

The FSS has been also looking into several local lenders on suspicion of illegal lending to Chonghaejin and its affiliated firms.

The Industrial Bank of Korea, in particular, is believed to have extended 3 billion won ($2.9 million) in loans to Chonhaiji, a local manufacturer of shipyard blocks, which owns a 39.4 per cent stake in Chonghaejin Marine, immediately after the ferry disaster, a source close to the investigation said.

Yoo Byung-eon is also believed to have been given billions of won in loans without collateral and proper scrutiny by local lenders, including the National Agricultural Cooperative Federation and Industrial Bank of Korea, the financial authorities said.

The former chairman of Semo Group is believed to have used the illegal loans to reacquire a majority stake in Semo Co., the parent company of the now-defunct company.

“We have decided to review all loan records related to Yoo and his family,” a FSS official said, hinting that the financial regulator may expand its probe into all financial firms in the country.

Since the Sewol’s sinking on April 16, financial regulators and the joint police-prosecution investigation team have been scrutinizing the assets and transactions of Yoo and his family on suspicions of irregularities, including tax evasion, illegal real estate transactions and violation of foreign exchange laws.


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