Mystery Surrounds Dubious Owner of Ferry Operator

Mystery surrounds the owner of ferry operator Chonghaejin Marine, which operated the ill-fated Sewol that sank on April 16, after he disclaimed all "financial links" to the company and downplayed how rich he really is.

Reports last week put the fortune of Yoo Byung-eon at hundreds of billions of won while he scrimped and saved on safety procedures on the ferry. But Yoo, a former chairman of Semo Marine who has had several run-ins with the law, claimed he only has about W10 billion (US$1=W1,041).

Amid accusations that Yoo was lying, his lawyer Son Byong-ki claimed Friday he had been misunderstood and by W10 billion had meant "tens of billions" of won. He claimed that this was a way of correcting press reports that put Yoo's fortune at between W240 billion and W300 billion.

He added that Yoo is still willing to donate his "entire" assets, as he had announced a day earlier, whatever their size.

A framed photograph presumably taken by Yoo Byung-eon, who owns the firm operating the sunken ferry Sewol, hangs at a tea farm belonging to Yoo and his family in Boseong, South Jeolla Province. A framed photograph presumably taken by Yoo Byung-eon, who owns the firm operating the sunken ferry Sewol, hangs at a tea farm belonging to Yoo and his family in Boseong, South Jeolla Province.

But records suggest that the earlier pledge may have been a ruse to wriggle out of larger responsibility. Son explicitly told the Chosun Ilbo and other media on Thursday that Yoo was willing to give "his entire W10 billion estate" to charity because he was so upset about the disaster.

A prosecution official investigating Yoo's holdings said there is a "huge gap" between what the former chairman claims he is worth and what investigators have found out so far.

englishnews@chosun.com / Apr. 28, 2014 11:22 KST