AFScion linked to S. Korea ferry disaster to be extradited over embezzlement

By AFP   August 3, 2023 | 01:09 am PT
AFScion linked to S. Korea ferry disaster to be extradited over embezzlement
A sign is placed between life vests signifying the 304 victims of sunken ferry Sewol during a protest demanding South Korean President Park Geun-hye's resignation in Seoul, South Korea, January 7, 2017. The sign reads: "Arrest Park Geun-hye." Photo by Reuters/Kim Hong-Ji
The businessman son of an infamous South Korean tycoon will be extradited from the United States on Friday to face charges of embezzling money from the company behind the 2014 Sewol ferry disaster, Seoul has said.

South Korea's justice ministry said in a statement on Thursday that Yoo Hyuk-kee - son of Yoo Byung-eun, the de facto owner of Sewol operator Chonghaejin Marine Company - would be "repatriated to Incheon International Airport on August 4, 2023, at 05:20" (2020 GMT).

The 50-year-old scion, also known as Keith Yoo, is accused of embezzling around 29 billion won ($22 million) as a de facto controlling stockholder of Chonghaejin.

Yoo - who is reportedly a green card holder in the United States - was arrested in New York in July 2020 after Seoul placed him on Interpol's wanted list.

In an accident that shocked South Korea, the Sewol ferry went down off the country's southwestern island of Jindo in April of 2014 with 476 people aboard. Of the 304 people who died, 250 were pupils from the same high school.

Shock quickly gave way to outrage after it became clear that the disaster was almost entirely man-made -- the result of an illegal redesign, an overloaded cargo bay, and an unhealthy nexus between operators and state regulators.

Authorities say the embezzlement of funds from Chonghaejin affected the safety of the ferry, as the stolen money would have otherwise been used for implementing vital safety measures.

Yoo's father, Yoo Byung-eun, was blamed for the disaster, and became the target of a massive manhunt in South Korea after he refused to respond to a summons following the sinking.

The tycoon, who also ran a religious group in addition to his substantial business interests, was found dead in a plum orchard two months later.

A post-mortem on his badly decomposed body failed to determine the cause of death.

In 2019, a South Korean court awarded compensation to some survivors of the ferry sinking, ordering the government and Cheonghaejin to pay each survivor 80 million won ($61,000).

The court at the time held Chonghaejin, among other entities, responsible for negligence, including for its failure to properly check the vessel before departure.

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